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STATE GOVERNMENT

O'Malley Signs Public Safety Bills, Including Measure to Increase SWAT Scrutiny

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By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Maryland's SWAT teams will be subject to increased scrutiny under legislation signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley yesterday, a response to a botched police raid in Prince George's County in which two dogs were shot to death.

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The legislation was among more than 250 bills, many of them focused on public safety, that O'Malley (D) signed in his final scheduled ceremony after the legislation that ended in April. Other measures authorize speed cameras statewide in school zones and work zones, force more domestic abusers to forfeit their firearms and place new restrictions on police surveillance.

"It is meaningful to us that something good has come out of the terrible tragedy of last summer," said Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo, whose dogs were shot when his home was mistakenly raided last summer. "Hopefully, it will be a first step in being able to better police our communities."

The new law will require every police department that operates a SWAT team to submit a monthly public report on its activities, including where and when it was deployed and whether an operation resulted in arrests, evidence seizures or injuries.

Members of the Prince George's Sheriff's Office SWAT team killed Calvo's black Labrador retrievers in July after officers broke down his door and raided his home in search of a drug-filled package that had been addressed to Calvo's wife. Law enforcement officials have since acknowledged that Calvo and his wife, Trinity Tomsic, were victims of a smuggling scheme that used FedEx drivers to ship drugs and that the couple knew nothing about the box intercepted by police.

The case attracted national outrage and remains a hot-button issue in Prince George's. Sheriff Michael Jackson and county police never apologized to Calvo, and an internal Sheriff's Office investigation found that the SWAT team acted appropriately. The county is reviewing those findings, Jackson said, and an FBI probe is believed to be ongoing.

In remarks at the ceremony, O'Malley and legislative leaders focused on the domestic violence bills, which give judges additional tools to prompt accused abusers to surrender their firearms. Under one bill, a judge can order abuse suspects to give up their guns when served with a seven-day temporary protective order if they had threatened violence or threatened to use a gun. The other bill requires judges to confiscate guns from anyone issued a more serious final protective order.

"This is probably the single most important step we've taken as a state . . . but it's not enough," said Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), whose cousin, Cathy, was fatally shot last year by an estranged boyfriend.

Brown, who said his cousin was among 75 Marylanders who lost their lives last year to domestic violence, served as the O'Malley administration's point person on the legislation during the session.

The speed camera legislation, which barely survived a series of Senate votes, was also an O'Malley priority. A group called Maryland for Responsible Enforcement is seeking to gather enough signatures in coming weeks to force a public vote on the measure under a Maryland referendum law.

O'Malley told reporters after the ceremony that he is "agnostic" on whether voters should have a say on the issue. Under current law, Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in Maryland in which speed cameras are allowed.

Another bill signed yesterday by O'Malley will prohibit law enforcement agencies from covertly infiltrating protest or advocacy groups without reasonable suspicion that they are engaging in criminal activity. That legislation grew out of revelations that the Maryland State Police, under O'Malley's predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), had infiltrated anti-death penalty groups and other organizations.

Other public-safety bills signed during the ceremony tighten some penalties on drunk drivers and require pawnbrokers to submit electronic records to help police find stolen merchandise.

Additional bills signed yesterday seek to expand use of electronic health records and raise the age for which foster children are guaranteed health insurance through Medicaid from 18 to 21.

Staff writers Aaron C. Davis and Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.


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