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Police Reform Advances In Maryland Senate, But Advocates Call Bills Weak

Rachel Baye

A package of eight bills that aim to reform policing were considered for the first time by the full Maryland Senate Friday. 


Included in the package are bills making police misconduct records subject to the Maryland Public Information Act; requiring the use of body-worn cameras; limiting no-knock warrants; creating new rules around the use of lethal force; and making changes to the controversial Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which governs police disciplinary procedures.


During a press conference Friday morning, Senate President Bill Ferguson and Judicial Proceedings Chairman Will Smith lauded the package as the fulfillment of a promise to change the state’s approach to policing, especially how law enforcement officers interact with people of color.


Smith listed some of the Black people killed by police in Montgomery County, part of which he represents, such as Emmanuel Okutuga and Robert White. 


“Heartbreaking stories like theirs are not new, especially for advocates and communities of color who have been calling for systemic police reform and accountability for decades, but our country and our state finally had the political will to make these changes happen,” Smith said. “We cannot claim to be a state that serves, welcomes and sees humanity of all people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, ability or ZIP code, if our system of policing and criminal justice do not pass muster.”


However, Sen. Jill Carter and Sen. Charles Sydnor, Democrats who sponsored most of the bills in the package, both expressed disappointment with some of the changes made by Smith’s committee, of which both Carter and Sydnor are members. 


“If I were the loan legislator in the General Assembly and this were a system of a monarchy and I were in complete isolation, would I have gone further on some of the bills? Absolutely,” said Carter, who represents West Baltimore. “All of that being said, as a whole, the package is something that I think will help protect and save human life.”


Both Carter and Sydnor, whose district includes parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore County, said they plan to support the package.


However, numerous advocacy groups pushing for police reform have criticized the measures as insufficient. 


“This is insulting and I call on the House of Delegates to do better,” Marion Gray Hopkins, president of the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, wrote in a statement signed by nearly 100 advocacy groups. “When you see how this Senate package waters down police accountability, it feels like a sucker punch. We deserve better, as constituents, Marylanders, and human beings.”


Ferguson said he expects to begin debating the package on Tuesday, and he expects the package to be in the House of Delegates by the end of next week.


Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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