A work group composed of Maryland lawmakers approved recommendations Thursday for law enforcement agencies to ban chokeholds, limit the use of no-knock warrants and enforce penalties for violating use-of-force statutes.
Most of the recommendations were approved along party lines, with the majority of Democrats seeking significant reform amid a nationwide outcry against police-related deaths and brutality, specifically involving Blacks and Latinos.
“Our police officers aren’t ordinary people. They carry weapons,” said Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Montgomery County), who chairs the 14-member body. “For Black and brown people, including myself and my three children, my brother and my father, we go out every day worrying [that] something could happen to you at the hands of police. That’s a fact and that’s a reality.”
The group was created this summer by House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) after the police-related death of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis, which spawned worldwide protests and some local officials to implement policy changes regarding police conduct.
In Prince George’s County, a rally for “reimaging policing” in the state will take place Saturday outside the Centre at Forestville with criminal justice advocates and those with loved ones killed or abused by police.
In Maryland, there are nearly 150 law enforcement agencies with police reform and accountability recommendations seeking to implement legislation when the General Assembly reconvenes Jan. 13. There’s still discussion on whether lawmakers would return to Annapolis because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
One of the proposals would impose prison sentences of up to five years for officers found guilty of recklessly violating the use-of-force statute. The penalty increases up to 10 years for “knowing and willful” violation.
In regard to chokeholds, Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Harford), who represents portions of Baltimore and Harford counties, said the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police supported the county council passing language allowing officers leeway to defend themselves, but balked at prohibiting the use of “neck restraints.”
When she offered an amendment limiting use of the tactic to instances in which an officer faces death or serious injury, it was defeated.
Del. Jason Buckel (R-Allegheny County) said the decision shouldn’t be made by lawmakers.
“You cannot legislate a fight,” he said. “We are talking about someone who is physically resisting an officer’s arrest, lawful command, or is threatening the officer with violence or another individual. I don’t think we are doing anyone a service by saying the use of chokeholds is prohibited.”
Del. Debra Davis (D-Charles County) disagreed.
“We do legislate fights,” she said. “Anytime you cut off someone’s right to breathe, that is deadly force.”
As of 4 p.m. Thursday, the panel remained in session to discuss one of the most controversial police-related topics: the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. The work group recommended repealing the statute, which detractors say gives police overly broad protections without accountability. Law enforcement officials, however, contend it protects police officers’ constitutional rights.