Prince George's County

Commission Consider Police Officers’ Bill of Rights, Digital Interrogations

A bill of rights for police officers is among the measures under consideration as a Maryland group created to instill trust between the community and law enforcement discussed police reform recommendations making interrogations digital, training and more citizen input.
The ideas received Monday, Aug. 24 will continue to be refined by the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing, which held its first meeting in October 2018 to investigate corruption within the Baltimore Police Department’s defunct Gun Trace Task Force. After thorny court proceedings, several officers drew convictions for robbery, extortion and other federal offenses.
The seven-member commission chaired by retired Prince George’s County judge Alexander Williams Jr. received broad authority by state legislation to not only scrutinize the city police task force, but also subpoena witnesses and receive documents to make public.
A preliminary report was released in December 2018 and a final report may be released in October to submit proposals to improve police action not only in Baltimore, but also in other law enforcement agencies in the state. The report will be sent to the governor and presiding officers in the General Assembly.
“This is our third meeting since resuming our activities that were previously suspending due to the pandemic,” Williams said. “We want to work hard and read this proposal and any other information or issues we want to discuss.”
One of the key items discussed Monday focused on the state’s Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, also known as LEOBR, which criminal justice advocates say provides too many protections for officers. However, law enforcement officials have said it ensures officers receive the right to due process.
Sean Malone, former counsel to the Baltimore Police Department and former labor commissioner in the city, highlighted several topics within the LEOBR statute.
One problem, he said, deals with how officers are charged and who’s making the charges based on the facts presented because “it varies by agency.”
For instance, Montgomery County has a civilian review board. Baltimore City does not.
A recommendation would be for Baltimore and the other 23 counties to establish a “police accountability board” comprised of residents, representatives from the state’s attorney’s office, public defender’s office, county attorney’s office and the police department. One of the responsibilities would look at certain charges assessed and investigated by a police department’s internal affairs office.
“They would actually take the investigation and review what charges should be leveled,” Malone said. “This is a way to get citizen involvement at the charging process.”
Another recommendation Malone presented would ensure police interrogations are recorded by video and audio and then transcribed. Currently, he said law enforcement agencies can choose which format to use.
A key measure under consideration deals with the current five-day waiting period for police officers to be interviewed after an incident, which remains part of a collective bargaining agreement in the LEOBR. Malone read a recommendation to trim the period to three days.
The commission plans to meet again Sept. 14, the same month the state Senate will hold its first session on police reform and accountability.
State Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery County), who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee and presented police reform recommendations this summer, said he supports the police trust commission’s idea to use digital technology for police interrogations.
Smith suggests trimming the waiting period for police interviews to one day because an attorney for an officer will be able to assist an officer immediately.
“We’ve been working throughout the summer and engaged with activists, advocates and academics to get as much input and insight as possible,” he said. “I’m excited to put some of those ideas forward for public scrutiny. It will be ready to take quick action when the session starts in January.”

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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