With the Maryland legislative session more than a month completed, advocates recently came together virtually to summarize successes and failures.
Lawmakers passed several policies on police and criminal justice reform last year that include a measure for all 23 counties and Baltimore City to approve the creation of police accountability boards.
Prince George’s County Council, sitting as the Committee of the Whole, will review the legislation Tuesday, May 31 and then hold a public hearing on June 28.
Along with an accountability board, local officials must also approve the establishment of an administrative charging committee and a trial board.
The committee would review allegations and recommend possible disciplinary action. If a police officer disagrees, then a local trial board would review the matter.
All jurisdictions must approve the boards and committees by July 1, which begins a new fiscal year.
“For months, organizations and groups have rallied . . . and been consistent in the demands for a strong police accountability board with strong community oversight powers,” said Yanet Amanuel, public policy director for the ACLU of Maryland, whose organization led the discussion Monday, May 23.
One police reform bill that didn’t pass this year dealt with officers in plain clothes not required to wear body-worn cameras.
The measure, sponsored by Del. Lesley Lopez (D-Montgomery County) and supported by the Silver Spring Justice Coalition, was named after 24-year-old Kwamena Ocran, shot and killed in January 2021 by City of Gaithersburg police officers not wearing uniforms. In October, a Maryland grand jury declined to indict the four officers.
After the shooting, city officials amended its body-worn camera policy to include officers not in uniform.
“We are still processing all of this,” said Joanna Silver, co-chair of a policy committee with the Silver Spring Justice Coalition. “There appeared to be little appetite for police and reform legislation this year after last year’s significant focus on these reforms. We look forward to working with all of you to try and pass this bill next year.”
One approved bill deals with incorporating discrimination policies within private schools that receive education funding from the state’s program called BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today). Its goal focuses on parents from low-income households who can apply for their children to attend a nonpublic setting.
Part of the measure states any nonpublic school program with a religious affiliation cannot deny or enroll a student based on “race, ethnicity, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.” The bill takes effect July 1.
“Private schools receiving public money should be held to the same standards in terms of nondiscrimination as public schools,” said Frank Patinella, senior education advocate for the Maryland ACLU. “We call it a partial success but we oppose the whole [BOOST] program overall.”
Additional optimism came after lawmakers agreed to place the question of the recreational use of marijuana on the November general election ballot. If voters support the measure, several acts go into effect including the expungement of records for single possession of marijuana and funding for impacted communities.
However, one part of the marijuana legislation doesn’t prohibit police from searching a person if there’s an odor present.
“We’re going to continue to see these racial disparities in arrests. We’ve already seen that in other states that have legalized recreational use,” Amanuel said. “We need policies that address the racist police practices and how we’re treating marijuana moving forward.”