Violators should be subject to criminal penalties, the work group said.
“I think we have made some really strong recommendations that are going to move Maryland forward on police reform and police accountability for, particularly, minorities,” said Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard), the chairwoman of the work group.
While some of the proposals endorsed by the panel have been discussed in the General Assembly before, they now will probably have the backing of Jones (D-Baltimore County), who ascended to the speaker’s position last year after the death of longtime Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).
The legislature has moved considerably to the left in the past two years and has been energized by the protests following Floyd’s death. Still, any significant overhaul would draw strong pushback from the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, which wields considerable authority in Annapolis.
And while Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) is more aggressive about policing changes than the man he succeeded in January, President Emeritus Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), the Senate itself remains more politically moderate than the House.
The vote to repeal the officers bill of rights, which is the oldest statute of its kind in the country, was 9 to 5, with Del. Michael A. Jackson of Prince George’s the lone Democrat to vote no. Approved in 1974, the law allows officers to wait before cooperating with internal misconduct inquiries, scrubs records of complaints after a certain period and ensures that only officers — not civilians — handle complaints.
Jackson, a former county sheriff, said he wanted the work group to consider replacing some of the language in the statute instead of pursuing a complete repeal. But other lawmakers were insistent.
“I was on a police reform work group 20 years ago, and we were not able to repeal LEOBR, so the idea that I’m here 20 years later and actually getting it done, thank you,” Del. Debra M. Davis (D-Charles) said to the panel.
Jones launched the work group this summer. Its final report will be used to draft legislation for the General Assembly to consider when it convenes in January.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee also held hearings on various policing bills over the summer. Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), who chairs that committee, has said he would like to see the bill of rights replaced, not completely repealed.
A recent Goucher College poll found there is public support for changes, including a ban on chokeholds, de-escalation policies, independent investigations of police wrongdoing and making police misconduct records available to the public. The poll did not include the bill of rights.
Several of Thursday’s votes on use-of-force recommendations were unanimous. Others, including the ban on chokeholds, a restriction on the use of no-knock warrants and criminal penalties against officers who violate the use-of-force standards, were along party lines.
Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) argued that chokeholds may be the only way officers working alone can protect themselves. Her amendment to limit the use of “neck restraints, except when defending from death or serious bodily injury,” failed.
Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery) successfully introduced an amendment to allow no-knock warrants — which became part of the national dialogue on policing practices after the killing of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky — only as a last resort.
The panel voted to propose charging officers who violate the use-of-force policy with a misdemeanor and subject them to up to 10 years in prison if the “violation is knowing and willful,” or up to five years if the violation is reckless.
Atterbeary gave the most emotional remarks of the hearing during the debate over the criminal penalties, arguing that officers should be held to a higher standard than ordinary citizens.
“Our police officers aren’t ordinary people. They carry weapons. And for Brown and Black people, including myself and my three children and my brother and my father, you go out every day worrying that something could happen to you at the hands of police,” she said before her vote.
“That’s a fact, and that’s a reality,” she continued, before listing the names of Black men who have been killed in police custody. “And I think the family of Freddie Gray would agree with me; the family of Anton Black would agree with me; the family of George Floyd would agree with me; the family of Rayshard Brooks would agree with me, and I could go on and on and on. And the fact is that is why we’re here.”
The panel wants to propose legislation giving the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission the authority to revoke the certification of officers who violate the use-of-force statute and to withhold state money from police departments that violate the statute. The work group also wants the commission to create a statewide database of officers who have lost their certification.
A proposal by Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery) to add more civilians with voting power to the commission passed.
The work group also approved a recommendation to shift responsibility for investigating police misconduct from local police agencies to an independent body. A proposal to shift prosecution of officers from the local state’s attorney office to the state attorney general’s office was defeated. Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby (D) and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) had lobbied hard against the change.
The panel made additional recommendations last week, including to mandate body cameras for all police agencies in the state by 2025 and require officers to undergo periodic mental and physical health assessments.
The work group also backed prohibiting the police union from having a role in negotiating police disciplinary procedures; allowing people to become police officers even if they have a history of past marijuana use; and returning control of the Baltimore City police department to the city.
It wants the state legislature to create a task force to study which 911 calls should elicit a response from police, rather than another public health or safety agency, and to create a college scholarship to encourage minorities to apply to become officers.