A House of Delegates workgroup voted Thursday in favor of overhauling laws governing policing in Maryland. Among the changes, the group recommends repealing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and creating statewide rules for when and how police officers can use deadly force in the line of duty.
WYPR’s Rachel Baye and Nathan Sterner discuss the group’s work.
There has been a lot of work related to police reform over the last several months. How close are we to seeing some of these changes?
This House of Delegates workgroup was convened in May to consider specific policies related to policing, such as body cameras and the use of lethal force. Thursday was the group’s last meeting and was focused on finalizing recommendations, which will likely become legislation when the General Assembly’s annual session begins in January.
A state Senate committee has separately been considering its own series of reforms, some of which are also expected to become legislation in January.
What were the key takeaways from Thursday’s meeting?
One major change the group proposes is repealing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. This is something police reform advocates have been seeking for years. The LEOBR, as it’s often called, establishes the process for police internal investigations and discipline, and it’s frequently criticized for making it difficult to hold officers accountable for misconduct.
Montgomery County Del. Gabriel Acevero, one of the workgroup members and a staunch advocate for repealing the law, reminded the group that although 17 states have similar laws, Maryland’s was the first, passed in 1973.
“I would argue that Maryland provided the blueprint to America on how to protect corrupt and racist cops by passing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and providing these kind of undue and unnecessary protections for law enforcement officers that ordinary citizens do not have,” Acevero said.
The lawmakers voted in favor of replacing the LEOBR with other accountability measures.
What other proposals are on the table?
The group spent more than half of the four-and-a-half-hour meeting finalizing recommendations for a law restricting when and how police can use lethal force. There are more than 20 parts to this recommendation. A few highlights:
The group voted unanimously to make it mandatory for an officer to intervene when he sees another officer using excessive force.
The group also voted to ban chokeholds and limit the use of no-knock warrants. Current law allows no-knock warrants if there’s a concern that a standard warrant will lead evidence to be destroyed. The workgroup voted to limit their use to situations when someone’s life is in danger, and only as a last resort. Though some of the recommendations had bipartisan support, these two had opposition from the workgroup’s Republican members.
One particularly controversial proposal is to make violating the new use-of-force law a misdemeanor that carries a maximum 10-year sentence. Some lawmakers argued that officers who use excessive force can already be charged with assault. But Howard County Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, who chairs the workgroup, argued that officers need to be held to a higher standard than civilians.
“Our police officers aren't ordinary people. They carry weapons, and for brown and Black people, including myself and my three children, we worry — and my brother and my father — you know, you go out every day worrying that something could happen to you at the hands of police," Atterbeary said. "That's a fact, and that's a reality.”
Advocates in Maryland have been pushing for so many reforms that the House group didn’t consider. Are there others lawmakers are likely to take up in January?
One concept that has gotten a lot of attention recently would allow the public access to records of police misconduct by altering the Maryland Public Information Act. Several advocates and some lawmakers were upset that the House workgroup didn’t take this up.
But that’s just one of what will likely be a wide range of bills related to police — from Republicans and Democrats — that the General Assembly considers when the session begins in January.