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Maryland Senate OKs Raft of Police-Reform Bills

The Maryland Senate approved nine police-reform bills Wednesday that seeks mental health services for officers, prohibits law enforcement agencies from purchasing military-grade weapons and requires police to wear body cameras.

Six of the bills received unanimous approval, including legislation allowing the use of search warrants during certain hours and for the office of the attorney general to investigate certain incidents when an officer kills someone. The body also voted for Baltimore City to regain control of its police department from state oversight.

The bills now head to the House of Delegates for another vote before landing on the governor’s desk.

“The House will have their opinions on how to move forward,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). “Then we will reconcile differences. Send something to the governor. The governor will make a choice, up or down, and then we’ll have to decide from there. We still have a long way to go.”

The closest vote in the Senate came at 29-18 on restructuring the Maryland Police Information Act, which would provide access for some police and internal affairs disciplinary records. The bill is named in honor of Anton Black, a 19-year-old Black man killed while in police custody on the Eastern Shore in 2018.

Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll County) bristled at the bill, saying unfounded complaints made public could unfairly ruin an officer’s reputation as well as that person’s family. It can also affect an agency’s ability to recruit officers, he said.

“We should definitely crack down on the bad apples,” Ready said. “We should definitely expose when wrongdoing has been done and proven. But this bill puts people in jeopardy for doing their job and having somebody complain and it be unsustained.”

Sen. Delores Kelley (D-Baltimore County), who voted for the bill, said the bill would have the opposite effect.

“If ultimately there has been a good investigation [and] the charges are not sustained, the public should know that,” she said. “The police officer should be able to look at all the people in the face and accept their congratulations that justice in his or her case has been done.”

Sen. Charles Sydnor, a Democrat who represents both Baltimore City and Baltimore County, said he would represent the only person in his party to vote against Senate Bill 626. The bill, which passed on a 35-12 vote, deals with law enforcement officers’ use of force, reporting and whistleblower protections.

Sydnor remained uncomfortable with the bill based on its definition of excessive force. Part of it states “that an objectively reasonable law enforcement officer would conclude exceeds what is necessary to gain compliance, control a situation, or protect a law enforcement officer or others from harm.”

“An officer who doesn’t follow procedure at times will be still deemed to have acted unreasonably,” he said Wednesday. “That officer would still be able to use qualified immunity. We still have some work to do on that definition.”

The final vote was on a bill to repeal and replace the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights statute, first established in the state in 1974. The legislation was passed by the Democratic majority on a 33-14 vote.

Sen. William C. Smith Jr., who chairs the chamber’s oldest committee formed in 1832 and is its first Black chairman, offered some personal reflections after the votes.

“I think about my ancestry. My great-great-great-grandmother was the victim of rape. That slaveowner’s blood pulses through my veins,” said Smith, a Democrat from Montgomery County. “We do have that shared heritage in the United States and that informs everything we do. The way we move about society. That is what sparked this debate. This is the most difficult problem I’ve ever dealt with in the Assembly and I’m tremendously proud of the product that we’ve produced.”

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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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