A Maryland Senate committee officially presented proposed legislation on police reform this week that includes use-of-force measures, elimination of no-knock warrants and reporting of police misconduct.
Three Democratic members of the Judicial Proceedings Committee — Sens. William C. Smith Jr., Jill Carter and Charles Sydnor III — emphasized the seven bills are a starting point for discussion and craft legislation when the General Assembly convenes in January.
“This is about legislation that puts the people that we serve first,” Carter, of Baltimore City, said Tuesday, Sept. 22. “There should not be a disparity between people and law enforcement in terms of one group being on a pedestal and another not.
Carter presented four bills on use of force standards, no-knock warrants, duty to intervene and whistleblower protections.
Sydnor offered legislation for police officers to report misconduct by another officer and create a database that highlights officers “found to have committed or alleged to have committed certain acts.”
The final bill from Smith, who chairs the committee, would prohibit a certain law enforcement agency from purchasing surplus military equipment. Between 1997 and 2019, he said agencies have bought $11 million in military equipment.
“I want to ensure those officers have all the equipment to accomplish their mission safely,” said Smith, a lawyer who spent eight months last year in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer with the U.S. Naval Reserve. “But when you start blending the military with local, state and municipal law enforcement [agencies], that runs afoul of what’s in the interest of public safety and the community’s relationship with law enforcement.”
The Republican committee members said the hearings scheduled to run through Thursday, Sept. 24 present a partisan tone, especially with no proposed bills from the minority party.
Sen. Chris West (R-Baltimore County) called the bills “anti-police.”
Sen. Robert Cassilly (R-Harford County) went a little further.
“It’s a crisis in the rule of law in our state,” he said. “The police are not the problem here. They, like the citizens, are just victims of the failure of governance. We’re seeing the gravitating fallout of seriously broken local governments shaped by decades of single-party dominance.”
Former police officers, criminal justice advocates, current police chiefs, attorneys with the fraternal order of police and others testified Tuesday.
David Rocah, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland, said his organization along with 75 groups demand the General Assembly address these police reform items in the next session: repeal the state’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, allow public knowledge of police misconduct, establish a statewide use of force policy, remove school resource officers from schools and shift control of the Baltimore City Police Department back to the city and away from the state.
“If we don’t do at least these five things, we will not have made meaningful steps,” Rocah said.
Meanwhile, some members in the House of Delegates held their fourth police reform and accountability session last week and heard from three state’s attorneys.
The prosecutors spoke on behalf of the Maryland State’s Attorney Association and offered a few recommendations for police reform such as implicit bias training, creation of a statewide database to track police misconduct and require law enforcement agencies immediately inform state’s attorney offices when police misconduct occurs.
One proposal the association opposes: an independent agency or appointed prosecutor from the state attorney general’s office to handle local cases that may involve incidents such as use of force by police.
“I believe very strongly the local state’s attorneys have the greatest responsibility to the people that elected them,” said Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy. “We know our community. We present cases to them all the time and we understand how to try cases in our respective jurisdictions.”
Del. Wanika Fisher (D-District 47B) of Hyattsville said residents may not agree with certain decisions made by a state’s attorney, such as the 2018 death on the Eastern Shore of 19-year-old Anton Black, who died in police custody.
“What do you do for a jurisdiction where the electorate in keeping the state’s attorney accountable does not have the same view of justice,” she said.