Demonstrators with the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability call for police reform during a march toward the State House in Annapolis on March 4. (Rob Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Demonstrators with the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability call for police reform during a march toward the State House in Annapolis on March 4. (Rob Roberts/The Washington Informer)

The police reform package passed by Maryland lawmakers less than two months ago became marked as the most comprehensive piece of legislation in about five decades.

New laws include a new statewide use-of-force standard, prohibiting law enforcement agencies to purchase military equipment from a surplus program and enhancing public access to view certain misconduct police records.

But criminal justice advocates say the bills don’t represent true reform.

“All you did was really make me angry and determined to fight,” said Dawn Dalton of Upper Marlboro who manages The Just Us Initiative. “In 2022, we need to start electing the right people and putting people in positions that really care about the people.”

Dalton represents one of the 95 nonprofit groups and other organizations with the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability that plan to organize, strategize and mobilize throughout the year in preparation for next year’s legislative session.

In the meantime, the coalition released grades May 26 on legislation presented this year, the same day of the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death.

The best grade of an “A” went to reforming the state’s public information act that goes into effect on Oct. 1. The bill, known as “Anton’s Law,” is named after Anton Black, 19, a Black man from the Eastern Shore who died after being in police custody in September 2018.

The public can view police disciplinary records of an officer punished for misconduct or various complaints. However, police officials can still withhold documents if they would interfere with an ongoing investigation, invasion of privacy or right to a fair trial.

Legislation to limit police officers’ use of force received a “B-” for departments to implement de-escalation training tactics, officers intervening to prevent excessive use of force and document incidents. The penalty for officers who violate the policy could be up to 10 years in prison.

The worst grade of an “F” came in regards to lawmakers not passing any legislation to remove officers from schools, formerly called school resource officers (SROs).

Legislation from Dels. Jhenelle Wilkins and Gabriel Acevero, Democrats from Montgomery County, proposed to direct $10 million from the state SRO program and pay for student mental health and wraparound services.

Some jurisdictions such as Harford and Frederick counties support SROs, but some education advocates have said they don’t fit in a school setting and often criminalize Black and Latino students.

“We have seen in jurisdictions this being a problem where they have a lot more children of color in those schools,” said Yanet Amanuel, public policy advocate for the ACLU of Maryland.

The repeal of the 1974 controversial Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights statute received a “C-” from the coalition. The new law allows civilians to serve on charging committees and trial boards to recommend discipline for an officer to a police chief.

The legislation doesn’t allow citizens enough authority to weigh in on the discipline of officers serving on an internal group chosen by police, state and local officials, versus being on an external body with stronger oversight, said Dayvon Love, public policy director for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle in Baltimore.

“It opened some doors. It opened some transparency. It created some avenues for [the public] to see what’s happening on the inside,” he said. “Until the community has power over the institution that’s supposed to serve us, that’s the only thing we would be able to credibly say is racial justice.”

The coalition administered an “incomplete” grade on Baltimore City maintaining control of the police department, which remains the only law enforcement agency in Maryland under state control. Voters will be able to make the final decision, but that may not happen until next year or in 2023.

Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery County), who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee and help lead the effort crafting and passing the police reform bills, said conservations will continue, for instance, on allowing a mental health professional go out on a 911 call and handle a behavioral crisis.

“I feel better about what we accomplished almost every day. It is the most comprehensive and consequential reform in policing in our state’s history and I think will serve as a model nationally,” Smith said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re done. The conversation is just starting on a larger, broader set of reforms, but this is an awfully good start.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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