Although the ongoing coronavirus pandemic remains the most pressing battle to fight in the country, police reform is still a major topic in Maryland.
Two bills proposed by Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery County) are scheduled for public hearings Tuesday, Feb. 9 focused on restructuring the state’s public information act and repealing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR).
“If we fail to pass meaningful police transparency and accountability legislation, the blame falls squarely at the feet of Democrats who hold a super-majority in both the House and the Senate,” he said. “My party often acknowledges the importance of Black women and Black voters. I am here to say that Black people’s love language is policy. We have to be committed to the policies that are rooted in our communities.”
Acevero will reintroduce “Anton’s Law,” named after Anton Black, a 19-year-old Black man from the Eastern Shore who died in 2018 in police custody.
The bill would ensure the state’s public information act allows public access to related to a police investigation and previous complaints made against an officer.
The most controversial bill in Annapolis remains the LEOBR, which grants officers due process during investigations and allows them up to five days to receive counsel and be interrogated for an alleged offense. Supporters say the statute, enacted in 1974, was the first in the nation to give police broad protections.
Opponents say it strips police of accountability while supporters insist complete repeal would undo a uniform, statewide system and create individual regulations for the 148 law enforcement agencies in Maryland.
Then-Del. Michael Jackson, who got sworn-in last month as a state senator, said during a House work session in August an officer’s role has constantly changed. However, he said collaboration with all parties must happen.
“To say that we to totally repeal any existing policy in any entity might be met with some resistance, said Jackson, a former Prince George’s County sheriff. “I’m certain we can work together toward some things down and necessary for the betterment of all Marylanders.”
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said during a virtual press briefing Friday, Jan. 29 the right people are in place this session to ensure police reform gets done.
“I suspect we’re going to see a repeal of the Law Enforcement [Officers’] Bill of Rights, but that can’t be all that we do,” he said. “It has to be a robust package that is truly focused on civilian oversight, trust and transparency.”
Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones made police reform one of the legislature’s top priorities with more than a dozen recommendations proposed for the 90-day session.
Discussion of the matter got underway after the Memorial Day police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. His death sparked international protests against police brutality and racism.
Some state and local officials passed and continue to review changes in law enforcement policies.
Maryland lawmakers held lengthy public hearings and work sessions last year on proposed police reform legislation, including limiting law enforcement agencies to purchase military-style equipment, eliminating no-knock warrants and establishing an obligation for police to intervene when witnessing wrongdoing or other misconduct.
‘Cops in Schools’
Another police reform item deals with school resource officers (SROs), which some education and criminal justice advocates pushed under the mantra of “No Cops in Schools.”
Prince George’s County public schools CEO Monica Goldson released her recommendations last month on SROs. The suggestions, coinciding with a county police task force report, include:
– Invest in mental health programs and restorative practices to reduce student discipline.
– Annually publish safety data on the school system’s website.
– Continue working on crisis prevention strategies with the county department of social services and state’s attorney office.
About 13,000 people participated in a survey conducted between Dec. 8 and Jan. 8 that showed the majority support SROs in the schools.
Of those surveyed, 94 percent support additional training for SROs to help de-escalate incidents; 92 percent said an interaction with SROs “was positive”; and 70 percent agree they “build positive relationships with the school community.
About 45 percent of the respondents noted support for the role of sworn peace officers in the school community as a teacher or school-based staff member. Another 39 percent either a parent or guardian and 13 percent as students.
The state passed a school safety act that requires public high schools to have either a school resource officer or “adequate law enforcement coverage” and specialized instruction through the Maryland Police Training and Standards.
Prince George’s County government entered contract agreements with the county police department and three municipal departments in Bowie, Greenbelt and Hyattsville to help with coverage at the schools.
Some jurisdictions such as St. Mary’s County work with the county sheriff department.
“I think this will be a place where each jurisdiction has its own process, so long as state criteria is in place with real training and real accountability,” Ferguson said.
Del. Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Montgomery County) says she has a better idea: use the $10 million in state money used to pay for SROs and provide counseling and other mental health services. Her legislation would be a companion bill with a bill Acevero will sponsor to prohibit jurisdictions or local governments from contracting with law enforcement agencies to station police in schools.
“They’re critical to what activists and the movement for Black lives have been pushing for around reimaging school safety,” Acevero said. “Black lives matter at school as well.”