Before Maryland lawmakers began to focus on police policies and procedures, Del. Vanessa Atterbeary told a short story about police harassing her father and assaulting her brother.
The Montgomery County delegate also mentioned how she was once stopped and questioned by several police officers after leaving a bank “because a Black woman had committed a crime nearby.”
Atterbeary read off several names of Blacks killed by police officers during the first virtual meeting Tuesday of a work group assembled to assess police reform and accountability in the state.
The death of George Floyd, who was killed last month when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, has sparked nationwide protests over other Blacks killed by police such as Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky; Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia; and Eric Garner in New York City. Lawmakers subsequently have begun to present policy recommendations, such as a budget cut of $150 million for the Los Angeles Police Department.
Locally, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks proposes to reallocate $20 million from the police department capital budget toward operating a mental health and substance abuse facility.
Now the Maryland legislature, which is overwhelmingly Democrat, plans to craft similar bills once the Maryland General Assembly convenes in January.
Exactly one week before Tuesday’s meeting, House Speaker Adrienne Jones along with all 98 Democrats in the House signed a letter to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to request he sign an executive order to require officers to intervene when another officer uses excessive force, ban the use of chokeholds and ban police shooting at vehicles, unless for deadly force against another person.
During Tuesday’s meeting, it was pointed out that the 24-member Maryland State Training and Standards Commission is made primarily of law enforcement officials that oversee rules and regulations of other police agencies.
Charles County Sheriff Terry D. Berry, also acting chair of the commission, said police agencies “were encouraged” to revise policies such as implementing “sanctity of life.”
Berry said officers are given use for force training that began in the police academy. In addition, he said the use of chokeholds are not taught nor approved by the commission.
Some delegates remain skeptical, especially when some policies aren’t required.
Del. David Moon (Montgomery County) gave an example on the no-knock warrant rule.
“It basically says it’s unreasonable as long as the officers have been trained. Clearly, that’s now what we intended, but maybe that’s what happens when we hand rule-making off to a body composed mainly of law enforcement with no teeth,” he said. “We’ve sort of set up a regime where we’re doing rules without teeth.”
Berry said a provision in the law allows officers to enter a home if they observe violence.
Another member of the work group, Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery County), least three times asked Berry and Albert Liebno, acting executive director of the commission, if the state has a specific law on limiting the use of force by officers.
Berry said it’s part of best practices such as using words to de-escalate a situation and “empty-hand” tactics where an officer has nothing in his or her hand.
“It’s always encouraged not to use physical force,” he said. “But during those particular times to using a minimum amount of force [under the law].”
After Liebno summarized various training officers conduct, he said “no” to Acevedo’s question.
Acevero continues to pursue “Anton’s Law,” a comprehensive piece of police reform legislation named after 19-year-old Anton Black, who died while in police custody on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
The measure, not passed this year during an abrupt ending to the session because of the coronavirus pandemic, would allow citizen and other complaints on police shootings to become public and incorporate specific standards on use of force by officers. In addition, Acevero plans to present legislation to repeal the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.
Del. Debra Davis (D-Charles County) asked how many states incorporate the officers bill of rights.
Neither Berry nor Liebno didn’t know, but Davis did —16, she said.
“If that statute was repealed, would that affect the employment rights of officers?” Davis said.
Berry deferred to legal counsel.
The next meeting is scheduled July 16 and a public hearing set for Aug. 6.