Lawmakers to review police training, offer proposals
A bipartisan group of Maryland lawmakers on Monday will begin its work to develop recommendations for improving police training and enhancing policecommunity relations.
The legislative panel was formed last month by House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and tasked with providing the General Assembly legislative proposals to improve public safety and policing practices.
The committee’s effort comes six weeks after riots broke out in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody. Gray died a week after sustaining the injury. Six Baltimore police officers have been charged in connection with his death.
State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore), who walked throughout Baltimore trying to spread calm during the state of emergency imposed because of the unrest, will be the work group’s co-chairperson. She said she looks forward to developing strong proposals that will change how police are hired and how they interact with residents.
“I’m hoping that during the process that we don’t rush,” Pugh said. “I want to continue until we are sure that there is a sound policy.”
Pugh said that the committee, which will hold an organizational meeting Monday, will hear from community groups, law enforcement agencies and criminal justice advocates. It will review police training and hiring practices, the role of independent review boards investigating shootings and deaths involving police, and Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which among other things gives officers 10 days to secure representation before cooperating with an investigation.
Pugh said she is particularly interested in reviewing diversity training for law enforcement officers and looking at how often officers have psychiatric evaluations.
State Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), who will be part of the 20-member group, said it will build off the progress the General Assembly made this year enacting some criminal justice reforms.
“There is this bipartisan consensus that too many people are being swept up in the process for nonviolent and victimless offenses,” Raskin said. That, he said, helped lead to the passage of several bills designed to help ex-offenders turn their lives around.
Among them was one giving former offenders the ability to expunge some of their criminal records or shield long-ago or minor convictions from public view. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed a different measure that would have allowed felons who are on parole and probation to vote.
“The conversation about criminal justice reform is taking place at a moment of fallen crime rates, so we are able to take a deep breath and examine what is working and what’s not,” Raskin said. “Meanwhile, the advent of cellphone photography also changed the public conversation about police-community relationships. Several of these very high-profile incidents from across the country have spotlighted that there is still a lot of progress to be made.”
This year, the legislature approved a bill that sets the stage for police officers to wear body cameras. A commission will be formed to review best practices for using the cameras and set statewide policy.
Pugh said that because that commission has taken on the issue of body cameras, the work group can look at other topics involving police interaction with communities.
Criminal justice advocates have criticized the General Assembly for watering down or killing legislation dealing with police conduct, including a measure that would have required the state prosecutor to investigate all police-involved deaths.
Del. Brett R. Wilson, an assistant state’s attorney who is part of the work group, said he has asked the panel to gather information about police-involved shootings and deaths across the state.
“We need the numbers so we are dealing with facts, not anecdotes,” said Wilson (R-Washington). He wants to look into the circumstances of each police-involved death, the race of the victim and whether the victim was armed.
“If we start from there, then we can look at the causes— was it a lapse of training, overzealousness or something else?” Wilson said.