CommunityWilliam J. Ford

Maryland Senator Proposes Sweeping Police Reform

A Maryland lawmaker has proposed more than a dozen police reform recommendations amid renewed national discourse about police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

State Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery County), who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee in Annapolis, said Thursday the legislature passed 21 police reform transparency bills in the past three years, “but none of them have really gone far enough.”

“The system has not changed in a meaningful way,” Smith said in an interview. “What we really lacked is the political will to have a lot of these tough conversations and move the ball forward.”

In the proposal Smith released Thursday, law enforcement agencies would be required to note use-of-force complaints in annual reports to the Maryland Police Training Standards Commission, and the commission would be required to establish de-escalation practices.

Maryland state Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (Courtesy of Maryland General Assembly)
Maryland state Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (Courtesy of Maryland General Assembly)

Smith acknowledged that the death of Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died while in police custody last month, and the subsequent protests worldwide have sparked an even greater push for changes in the law enforcement structure.

One of the latest incidents of alleged brutality happened Saturday in Langley Park. Prince George’s County Police shared a video shot by a bystander that shows an officer forcefully taking down a suspect in an assault before kicking the man twice while another officer attempts to handcuff him.

Police Chief Hank Stawinski said the officers and their supervisor have been suspended. State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy may file charges in the case, which remains under investigation.

Meanwhile, the operations, budget and fiscal affairs committee for Prince George’s school board met Monday, June 8 to discuss a proposal to cancel a contract with the Police Department for school resource officers in the schools. Known as SRO, part of the program pays for officers to patrol school property.

Supporters have said it also allows students to communicate with officers on a more personal level.

According to a resolution presented by board member David Murray, the school system “shall cancel its contract” and amend the budget by $5 million to hire more social workers, mental health professionals and counselors.

The five-member committee voted on the resolution in three parts, including its unanimous approval for the full board to receive a complete report on SRO training and the $5 million to hire additional staff.

However, board member Curtis Valentine voted against canceling the contract, he said in a text message Monday. Board member K. Alexander Wallace abstained.

Murray, board Vice Chair Edward Burroughs III and board member Belinda voted to recommend the full board approve to cancel the department’s contract.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls to get SROs out the schools,” Queen said. “This is a different day and a different time. People want more resources for mental health and counselors for our students.”

The county council on May 29 approved the fiscal year 2021 budget that includes education, but the spending plan doesn’t go into effect until July 1.

The school board plans to discuss the resolution on June 11.

Police departments have been the focus during peaceful protests, marches and vigils throughout the weekend in Prince George’s County and the D.C. region.

In Smith’s two-page letter, he summarized other measures he plans to craft into proposed legislation and then to hold hearings on in the fall. His other recommendations for police departments and law enforcement agencies include:

– Adopting policies that require officers to intervene when another officer uses excessive force.
– Banning chokeholds, strangleholds and shooting at moving vehicles.
– Releasing an officer’s name if a complaint or investigation reveals an officer discharged a firearm, sexual assault, discrimination, or improper use of force.

One of the most noted items deals with eliminating a five-day waiting period for police officers to be interviewed after an incident, a major item part of a collective bargaining agreement in the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights. Prior to 2015, Smith said officers received 10 days before they were questioned about an incident.

Smith, a lawyer who spent eight months last year in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer with the U.S. Naval Reserve, pointed out that military police or JAG Corps officers would immediately detain and question any military officer, even one who is a civilian, charged with a crime.

“You don’t get five days to kind of get your story straight and to kind of reflect on what happened. … You’re interrogated right away,” he said. “So why would we have a different standard for law enforcement? That’s just a matter of transparency and fairness.”

Smith and his Senate colleague Malcolm Augustine (D-District 47) of Cheverly said these reforms aren’t to target police officers, but to restructure the law enforcement system.

Augustine, a member of the Finance Committee, said the recommendations seek not only to improve relationships between police and residents but to also enhance conversations.

“There is an inherent bias in our society,” he said. “It is an uncomfortable thing to share with young children because they may be treated wrong and poorly just because of who they look like. It is a reality in the United States. We have to communicate that. We have to be honest and look out for the people we love … based on the experiences in our society today.”

Toni Holness, public policy director for the ACLU of Maryland, said the proposed police reforms and others have been presented before state lawmakers for more than a decade, and family members of those killed and brutalized by police have testified, but “nothing is done.”

“The killing of countless Black Marylanders has not been enough to pass these bills,” she said. “I want to know what is different now. If the legislature is ready to act, [then] I look forward to hearing the action behind these words.”

 

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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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