After three days of testimony in support and against more than a dozen proposed bills on police reform and accountability, a Maryland Senate committee held its final hearing on the issue Thursday with the focus on one of the most controversial statutes in the state.
Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City) drafted a proposed bill to repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEORB) and another to incorporate law enforcement reforms, such as decreasing the earliest time that a police officer can receive counsel and be interrogated for an alleged offense from five days to three.
Other proposed reforms include prohibiting any law enforcement agency from conducting polygraph examinations ordered by that agency and allowing civilian employees from police departments to serve on a committee to investigate alleged misconduct.
“It’s been a long road,” said Carter, a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee who presented six police and accountability bills this week during three days of hearings that began Tuesday. “There is no such thing as pro-law enforcement and anti-law enforcement. This is all about our responsibility to represent and serve people.”
She said Tuesday that only two of more than 30 bills she presented since 2013 have been passed. From that year through 2019, nearly 140 people have been fatally shot by police officers in Maryland.
That’s why dozens of people testified in support of police reform, including civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson, who co-founded Campaign Zero, an initiative that analyzes police contracts and other data to end racism and police violence in America.
Mckesson said his group’s study found that only 19 other states have LEORB statutes similar to Maryland’s.
“The vast majority of the country doesn’t have these rules at the state level,” he said Thursday. “The model across the country that is already true is that counties do what is best for them, and that part of our responsibility is to make sure they can’t do things that are not in the interest of the public.”
Rodney Hill, police legal adviser for the Baltimore City Police Department, said a full repeal of LEOBR would dismantle a uniform, statewide system and create individual structures within the more than 140 law enforcement agencies in Maryland.
“A complete repeal without replacement would not solve the problems that we’re attempting to address,” he said. “We should be moving towards a more [consistent] police policy, especially in the area of accountability.”
Since the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, protests against police brutality and other forms of racism swelled not only in cities across the country but worldwide.
One month later, members in the Maryland House of Delegates held the first of four police reform and accountability sessions to work on crafting legislation for when lawmakers reconvene in Annapolis in January.
Nationwide frustration swelled Wednesday after the Kentucky attorney general announced three Louisville police officers wouldn’t be charged in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. During subsequent protests in the city, two police officers were shot, but are expected to recover from their injuries.
In the meantime, the Maryland Senate committee reviewed bills this week on state prosecutors investigating crimes committed by police officers that result in serious physical harm or death, body-worn cameras and officers undergoing drug and alcohol testing if someone dies or is seriously injured as result of an officer firing their weapon.
Sen. Charles Sydnor III, a Democrat who represents portions of Baltimore City and Baltimore County, presented four draft bills this week, while fellow Democratic Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (Montgomery County) offered five bills.
“We are at a historic juncture in Maryland,” said Smith, who chairs the committee. “This is just the start.”