“The poll shows that the public is paying attention, and how can they not after this summer?” said Mileah Kromer, an associate political science professor and director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, referring to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests that sprung up across the country. “There is support from the public for reform.”
At the same time, the poll shows that policing is far from the most important issue facing the state, according to most of those surveyed. Four percent of respondents described it as the top issue, compared with 30 percent who said the coronavirus pandemic was most important and 22 percent who prioritized the economy.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) continues to remain popular, according to the poll, with 71 percent of residents saying they approve of the job he is doing as governor.
The poll, which was conducted Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, found that 87 percent of Marylanders support creating a record of police misconduct cases that would be available to the public, and 85 percent want to shift the responsibility of investigating police misconduct from local police agencies and prosecutors to an independent body.
The poll also shows a majority of residents support banning chokeholds, de-escalation policies and racial bias training.
Findings were mixed on the issue of funding for police. On one hand, 79 percent of Marylanders said they support increasing funding to hire more and better officers. On the other, 54 percent said they like the idea of reducing the budget for the police department in their community and shifting the money to social programs related to mental health, housing and education.
Just over a quarter say they support the “defund the police” movement. Sixty-six percent said they viewed “the police” favorably, and 66 percent said they viewed the “Black Lives Matter” movement favorably.
“It speaks to the complexity of these issues. And how we talk about it matters,” Kromer said. “At the end of the day, a majority of Marylanders have a favorable view of police . . . but people also have an appetite for reform.”
Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard) said the House work group on police reform that she chairs has taken up many of the policies mentioned in the poll. It will soon submit recommendations to House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) to help guide legislation to be considered for the 2021 legislative session.
The work group voted last week to support a statewide use-of-force policy, as well as statewide use of police body cameras, and plans to vote this week on what should be part of the use-of-force policy. Items under consideration include de-escalation policies and a ban of chokeholds.
But the work group is not taking up the issue that received the most support of Marylanders in the poll: making police misconduct records open to the public.
Advocates and many lawmakers pushed for the panel to make a recommendation on changing the Maryland Public Information Act to allow more transparency. But Atterbeary said the issue is not part of the group’s charge.
She said the legislature will again consider a bill addressing police records that passed the House last session but stalled in the Senate. The measure, sponsored by Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), has the support of law enforcement leadership, according to those pushing for greater transparency, who say it would not do enough to make disciplinary and investigative findings publicly available.
“It is clear why police chiefs and sheriffs are supporting it, because they know it keeps in place the culture of secrecy around officer misconduct,” Joseph Spielberger, public policy counsel at the ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement after the meeting.
The Goucher poll did not ask residents their views on independent prosecutions of police wrongdoing, one of the most contentious issues facing Atterbeary’s work group. Nor did it ask residents their views on the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, which provides broad protections to officers accused of wrongdoing.
Both issues are expected to be addressed by the work group Thursday.
The Maryland Fraternal Order of Police is pushing against a repeal of the bill of rights, which includes a formal waiting period before officers have to cooperate with internal inquiries into police conduct, the removal of records of complaints brought against officers after a certain period and a requirement that only fellow officers — not civilians — handle complaints.
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby (D) and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) oppose giving up control of prosecutions of police officers in their jurisdictions and have been calling members of the work group urging them to oppose such a change.
The work group is considering whether to support moving such prosecutions to the state Attorney General’s Office, which is considered more independent from local police agencies. It is also considering proposals to require outside police agencies to investigate when officers are accused of wrongdoing.
“If we are to accomplish what our goal was in creating this work group — to create bold, meaningful change — I strongly believe we need independent investigations and independent prosecutions,” Atterbeary said.