In the District, lawmakers passed emergency legislation last year. A vote is expected in coming weeks to make the laws permanent. A commission tasked with reshaping policing in the city has recommended a raft of changes that the city council could take up.
In Virginia, the General Assembly launched a special session last fall focused on police reforms, then focused on those issues again in the recently concluded session.
Here are some of the key provisions of the new laws across the region:
Accountability and use of force
D.C. police must now make public the names of officers who use serious or deadly force and video from their body cameras within five business days. The family of someone killed by police, or a person who was injured, can choose to keep the video private.
Lawmakers also limited situations in which deadly force can be used. The officer now must reasonably believe deadly force is “immediately necessary” to protect another person or the officer from serious injury or death. The change removes language that allowed deadly force when an officer believed it “necessary and objectively reasonable.” Codifying existing D.C. police policy restrictions, the new law bans the use of neck restraints, also called chokeholds, by police. It also makes it illegal for an officer to fail to render or call for aid if such a restraint is used.
Arrests and searches
Police no longer are required to make an arrest when a crime is committed in their presence. And officers wishing to search a person, vehicle or property by obtaining the owner’s consent — instead of seeking a warrant — must explain “in plain and simple language” that the search is voluntary and that the person has the right to refuse.
Hiring and training
In an effort to weed out candidates who have been in trouble at other agencies, people seeking officer jobs are ineligible if they have committed serious misconduct at another law enforcement agency, had been previously terminated or forced to resign for disciplinary reasons or had previously resigned to avoid potential, proposed or pending discipline or termination.
Additional training is now required to help prevent “biased-based policing” and teach officers to use de-escalation tactics to defuse volatile situations. The law also mandates that officers undergo training on how to file complaints against fellow officers seen engaging in wrongdoing.
Oversight and discipline
Discipline policies for officers are no longer a negotiable issue for collective bargaining, a shift that takes the union out of helping craft disciplinary procedures thought by some to favor police. The law also expands the time the department has to seek discipline against officers from within 90 to within 180 days of a possible infraction.
The Police Complaints Review Board, a civilian panel that reviews some misconduct, was expanded from five to nine members, to include one representative from each city ward and one at-large member. The law eliminates police representatives, and the director can investigate issues even if a complaint is not filed.
Separately, the Use of Force Review Board, which reviews shootings involving police and other instances when serious force is used, was expanded to include civilian members, including one person who has experienced the use of force by an officer.
D.C. police officers regularly are tasked with keeping people safe at the many protests and demonstrations in the nation’s capital. The law requires officers have identification tags prominently displayed during First Amendment assemblies, including insignia on their uniforms and/or helmets.
It also limits the use of less-than-lethal weapons and bans the use of chemical irritants during First Amendment assemblies. Police say that once a riot is declared, they may use chemical irritants and other crowd-control devices. The law also prohibits police from being deployed in riot gear unless there is an immediate risk to officers of significant injury.
The law prohibits D.C. police from acquiring certain military equipment, including ammunition .50 caliber or higher, armored aircraft or vehicles, bayonets, silencers, firearms .50 caliber or higher and remotely powered aircraft such as drones.
Oversight, discipline, Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights
The new law, which takes effect in July 2022, repeals the country’s oldest Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, doing away with provisions that include giving officers a five-day grace period before providing a statement about an incident and allowing an officer’s disciplinary record to be scrubbed after three years. The legislation also creates a new process for imposing discipline, designed to give civilians a larger role. If an officer is accused of misconduct, an administrative charging committee, which is made up of five civilians and has subpoena powers, will analyze the local agency investigation and recommend discipline to the police chief. The chief cannot impose discipline lower than the recommendation. An officer can appeal to a trial board. The three-member board includes two civilians.
Public information, police complaints
The public will have access to police disciplinary records that show whether an officer has been the subject of complaints or has faced punishment for misconduct. Maryland was one of 20 states that shielded this information. The bill was named for Anton Black, a 19-year-old college student who was killed in an interaction with police. The family was unable to get information about the investigation for four months. Police officials will still be able to withhold records from the public in some situations, including if disclosure would interfere with an ongoing investigation, deprive someone of the right to a fair trial or create an unwarranted invasion of privacy. In those instances, the information will be made available to prosecutors, something that current law prevents. The legislation takes effect in October.
The issuance of no-knock warrants is limited to incidents in which a person’s life is endangered. They can be executed only between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., absent exigent circumstances. The legislation also requires each agency to report to the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services about how many no-knock warrants were executed and why they were issued. The report must be published on the state’s website. The legislation takes effect in October.
Use of force
Police may use force only when, “under the totality of circumstances,” it is “necessary and proportional to prevent an imminent threat of physical injury to a person or to effectuate a legitimate law enforcement objective.” Under the current standard, force may be used when it is “objectively reasonable.” An officer must stop using force when the person is under the officer’s control or the person no longer poses an imminent threat of injury or death to the officer or another person or it will no longer accomplish a legitimate law enforcement objective. Officers who violate the policy could face a sentence of up to 10 years.
Some police departments already use body cameras. The law requires the Maryland State Police and the police departments in Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford counties to have body cameras for each officer by July 1, 2023. All other agencies must have cameras by July 1, 2025.
Investigations of police-involved fatalities
Under the law, which takes effect in October, an independent investigatory unit in the attorney general’s office will handle police-involved fatalities. The attorney general can use a member of the State Police and employ other civilian personnel as needed to do the investigations. While the law calls for the governor to include funding in the budget to pay for the unit, there has been no funding appropriated for next year.
Hiring and certification
Officer candidates must disclose their full disciplinary records before being hired. They must undergo implicit-bias testing and training and submit to regular mental health and physical assessments, and prior marijuana use is no longer a disqualifier for certification.
Interactions with the public
Officers who stop an individual must provide their name, identification number and agency and the reason for the stop. An officer who does not provide the information could be subject to administrative disciplinary charges.
Additionally, an officer cannot prevent or prohibit someone from recording an officer’s actions. The cap was raised for civil lawsuits stemming from police interactions. Civilians can receive up to $890,000, nearly double the previous limit.
Baltimore City Police Department
Baltimore voters will be able to decide whether to return control of the police department to full local control for the first time since 1860. The city police department is a state agency, the only one in Maryland under state control.
The law prohibits police agencies from acquiring the following from a military surplus program: aircraft, a drone, a vehicle, a “destructive” device, a firearm silencer or a grenade launcher. The law takes effect in October.
Code of conduct for police
The legislature ordered Virginia’s Criminal Justice Services Board to create statewide standards for law enforcement conduct, to include a specific definition of “serious misconduct.” The new law also changed the standard for decertifying officers, which previously happened only if an officer was convicted of a crime. Now, police departments must notify the state certification board if an officer fails to comply with mandatory training or drug testing or if an officer resigns or is fired in advance of a criminal conviction or pending drug screening.
Traffic stops and marijuana-odor-related searches
Many Virginia laws that regulate minor traffic offenses, such as having broken taillights, having tinted windows or not wearing a seat belt, now have this added to the law: “No law-enforcement officer shall stop a motor vehicle for a violation of this section.” In the same bill, the legislature determined that police in Virginia may no longer search “a person, place or thing” because they smell marijuana, a source of many police investigations and arrests. Virginia also legalized recreational marijuana effective July 1.
Mental health crisis response teams
Virginia is developing a “mental health awareness response” system that calls for mobile crisis response teams to be dispatched to behavioral health crises when possible. State criminal and mental health boards are instructed to develop best practices for such teams and to have at least five regional teams in place by December. The teams would respond to “Marcus” alerts, named for a Richmond man who was fatally shot by police during a psychotic episode in 2018. It also requires that police have a “specialized response” to calls for people in crisis.
Virginia in 2020 became the third state to ban no-knock warrants, prohibiting police from serving search or arrest warrants without first knocking and announcing themselves.
Limiting chokeholds and requiring officers to intervene
Virginia officers may not use a “neck restraint,” the legislature found, unless it is “immediately necessary to protect the law-enforcement officer or another person.” A new law also defines “excessive force” and requires that officers “shall intervene, when such intervention is feasible.” The laws do not specify a legal penalty but say the officers “shall be subject to disciplinary action,” including termination.
Some local jurisdictions have created civilian review boards to monitor police actions, but they have no legal power and act more as advisory bodies. The new law allows these panels to receive citizen complaints, conduct investigations and issue binding rulings. The law does not apply to sheriffs’ deputies who perform police functions, because sheriffs are elected officials who may be turned out of office by public vote.
Attorney general authorized to investigate local police departments
The Virginia attorney general may now file a civil suit or conduct an investigation of “any unlawful pattern and practice” by a local police department, a role previously held largely by the federal Justice Department.
Mandatory racial bias, de-escalation and crisis intervention training
The state is creating a standardized curriculum for police academies to train police in bias, de-escalation and crisis intervention, and new officers in Virginia will be required to undergo a psychological evaluation before they are hired.