The Washington Post Sunday

Maryland enacts policing overhaul

USE-OF-FORCE RULES ARE TIGHTENED Accountabi­lity measures give public a bigger role


Maryland enacted historic police accountabi­lity measures Saturday, becoming the first state to repeal its powerful Law Enforcemen­t Officers’ Bill of Rights and setting new rules for when police may use force and how they are investigat­ed and discipline­d.

The Democratic-majority legislatur­e dealt Republican Gov. Larry Hogan a sharp rebuke, overriding his vetoes of measures that raise the bar for officers to use force; give civilians a role in police discipline for the first time; restrict no-knock warrants; mandate body cameras; and open some allegation­s of police wrongdoing for public review.

Each bill had been hailed by criminal justice advocates as having the potential to make policing in the state fairer and more transparen­t. Democrats, who hold large majorities in the legislatur­e, made enacting them a top priority after months of protests over the police-involved deaths of unarmed Black men and women.

“Maryland is leading the nation in transformi­ng our broken policing system,” said House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), who sponsored the repeal of the officers’ bill of rights and is the first Black person to hold her leadership role. “I am proud to lead the House in overriding the governor’s veto and showing the nation exactly where we stand as a state.”

The changes do not go as far as some social justice advocates had hoped: Discipline will now largely be decided by civilian panels, for example, but police chiefs maintain a role. Some activists wanted the panels to act independen­tly of

Still, the legislatio­n imposes one of the strictest police use-offorce standards in the nation, according to experts; requires officers to prioritize de-escalation tactics; and imposes a criminal penalty for those found to have used excessive force.

During months of debate, many White Republican lawmakers talked about the dangers police officers face on the job and said the bills would remove needed protection­s. Black Democratic lawmakers responded with passionate and personal arguments for why police officers need better training and said they hoped the legislatio­n would change policing culture and attitudes toward Black people.

“I want to make it out alive, too,” said Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), a former prosecutor who said his size and his skin color have often aroused suspicion from police.

“When I look into that officer’s eyes, they’re not looking at me like I’m another human being,” Wilson said. “At best, I’m a threat. At worst, I’m an animal. That is unacceptab­le.”

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), who is White, said the raft of bills enacted Saturday, “starts the work.”

“What we are doing today is taking a step forward to creating greater public safety where every single member of our community feels safe,” Ferguson said. “We’re not there, but with this framework, we can get there.”

Hogan, who is weighing a presidenti­al bid in 2024, has built a varied record on criminal justice issues — championin­g drug treatment rather than jail time for nonviolent offenses but aggressive­ly seeking tougher penalties for violent crimes. He has refused to free many prisoners approved for release by the state’s parole board and has consistent­ly sided with police unions in matters regarding officer protection­s and accountabi­lity.

In his veto letter Friday night, Hogan wrote that the three policing bills would “erode police morale, community relationsh­ips and public confidence.”

“This will result in great damage to police recruitmen­t and retention, posing significan­t risks to public safety throughout our state,” the letter said.

Also on Saturday, the General Assembly overturned an earlier Hogan veto of a bill that would abolish life sentences without parole for juveniles. The legislatio­n allows prisoners who were juveniles when they were convicted to appeal to a judge for release after they have served 20 years.

In addition, the legislatur­e overrode Hogan’s veto of a prevailing wage law, which expands the circumstan­ces under which constructi­on workers on state projects must be paid the same wage as those on nearby private-sector sites.

Hogan said the parole measure would upend the state’s parole process, cause additional trauma to victims’ families and potentiall­y lead to the release of violent offenders who should remain behind bars.

Sen. Chris West (R-Baltimore County), the bill sponsor, said the measure was about redemption, arguing that teenagers convicted as adults eventually deserve the right to prove to a judge that they have turned their lives around.

Hogan allowed two other police accountabi­lity bills to become law without his signature. One puts in place a process to return the Baltimore Police Department to local control for the first time since 1860. The other, which takes effect in October, shifts the investigat­ion of police-involved fatalities from local authoritie­s to an independen­t unit in the state attorney general’s office. It also bans police department­s from acquiring surplus military equipment.

“We are on the right side of history,” said Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), who sponpolice. one of the measures Hogan vetoed and had previously spent a decade pushing for police accountabi­lity and transparen­cy laws, to no avail.

The legislatur­e, which is slated to finish its 90-day session on Monday, began overturnin­g Hogan’s vetoes late Friday night, less than two hours after receiving word of the governor’s decisions.

In casting the first of those override votes, Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard), who led a House police restructur­ing work group over the summer, said the measures were not “anti-police legislatio­n — this is equality and fairness legislatio­n.”

“This was painstakin­gly put together for Black and Brown folks in our state,” Atterbeary said on the House floor, reciting the names of more than a half dozen Maryland residents who were killed in interactio­ns with police. “It’s time for police officers who don’t follow the proper law to pay the consequenc­es.”

On Saturday, Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery) cited the fatal shooting of two men in Takoma Park, Md., on Wednesday by an off-duty Pentagon police officer who was charged with murder.

“They were shot in the back,” Moon said of the victims, adding that the incident in his suburban district reflects a culture of vioIn lence in policing that must be stopped. “Guess what color they were? They were Black . . . . You cannot tell me that we don’t need this legislatio­n. Literally as we were debating this, this happened. It’s unacceptab­le, this culture of violence.”

Advocates praised the legislatur­e for the measure that provides greater access to police misconduct records. But several gave tepid support to Jones’s bill that replaces the police bill of rights, because it does not give civilians absolute control of the disciplina­ry process.

“Having repealed it is a net positive, but for there not to be substantiv­e community oversight makes the passage of it disappoint­ing,” said Dayvon Love, the director of public policy for a Baltimore-based think tank promoting Black empowermen­t.

The transparen­cy bill, which takes effect in October, is named for Anton Black, a 19-year-old college student who died in 2018 after being restrained by an officer in a small police department on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Black’s family spent months trying to get informatio­n about his death and has filed a wrongfulde­ath lawsuit. No police officers were charged with wrongdoing.

Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery), who had sponsored legsored islation in Black’s memory for the last three sessions, said on the floor Saturday that “if we do not have transparen­cy, there can be no accountabi­lity, there can be no justice, there can be no community trust.”

Clyde Boatwright, the president of the state’s Fraternal Order of Police, thanked Hogan in a statement Saturday for “standing with the men and women of law enforcemen­t.”

In an interview, he said his members are most concerned about the new use-of-force standard, which says a police officer may not use force against a person unless “under the totality of the circumstan­ces, the force is necessary and proportion­al.” Republican critics of the standard have called it too vague and said courts will have to decide what the language means.

Under the statute, an officer who uses excessive force faces criminal penalties, up to 10 years in prison. The bill, which also mandates the use of police body cameras across the state, takes effect in stages. The training and use-of-force limits begin in July 2022, while body cameras are required by different deadlines for different jurisdicti­ons and statewide by July 2025.

House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) said he supports police revision but believes the use-of-force standard “goes too far” and, because of the possibilit­y of jail time, could prompt police officers to “step back and stand down in situations where a reasonable person would want them to act.”

Boatwright said the repeal and replacemen­t of the bill of rights still allow officers to have due process, which is what the union sought. The new disciplina­ry process takes effect July 1, 2022.

Some protection­s that were in the bill of rights — such as a fiveday waiting period before officers accused of wrongdoing must speak to investigat­ors for internal investigat­ions, and the scrubbing of police complaints after a certain period of time — are not included in the replacemen­t statute.

But officers are still guaranteed the right to participat­e in political activities and work at second jobs.

The new disciplina­ry process for officers requires local jurisdicti­ons to create administra­tive charging committees made up of civilians. Those committees recommend whether an officer should be internally discipline­d and what discipline should be applied.

A police chief cannot impose lesser discipline than what the committee recommends.

“When I look into that officer’s eyes, they’re not looking at me like I’m another human being . . . . That is unacceptab­le.” Maryland Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles)

 ?? MARVIN JOSEPH/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), seen last month, vetoed three pieces of policing legislatio­n on Friday, saying they would “erode police morale, community relationsh­ips and public confidence.”
MARVIN JOSEPH/THE WASHINGTON POST Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), seen last month, vetoed three pieces of policing legislatio­n on Friday, saying they would “erode police morale, community relationsh­ips and public confidence.”

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