ANNAPOLIS — A package of police reform legislation that would require all police officers to wear body cameras, restructure the state’s Public Information Act and expand mental health services for officers was introduced Friday on the Maryland Senate floor.
The Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee led the way that began last summer with hours of intense hearings and debate. In the past two weeks, the committee held 30 hours of voting on the eight bills.
“This has been some of the most important work that I’ve had the honor to work on,” committee Chair William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery County) said during a virtual press conference.
The other bills, which Smith said are the most comprehensive ever presented in Maryland in the past four decades, include:
• SB 419 – Curtail the use of no-knock warrants such as a time when an officer can enter a house, apartment, or other place.
• SB 599 – Decrease the militarization of law enforcement agencies from purchasing missiles, grenade launchers, or weaponized aircraft or vehicle from a federal surplus program.
• SB 600 – Require a local state’s attorney who doesn’t prosecute an officer for allegedly killing someone to turn all documents over to a state prosecutor within 10 days.
• SB 627 – Repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a statute first established in Maryland in 1974.
Another bill would implement a statewide use-of-force standard that penalizes an officer for refusing to report misconduct or “failing to intervene” when wrongdoing occurs. An officer could face up to 10 years in prison for violating the policy.
During a committee session Thursday, Sen. Charles Sydnor, who represents portions of Baltimore City and Baltimore County, voiced his uneasiness with the bill’s definition of excessive force.
Part of it states “that an objectively reasonable law enforcement officer would conclude exceeds what is necessary to gain compliance, control a situation, or protect a law enforcement officer or others from harm.”
“I’m not looking to put law enforcement officers in prison,” Sydnor said Friday. “I’m simply looking to be treated fairly and not to be nervous when I engage with law enforcement officers and wondering whether or not I’m going to leave that interaction with my life spared.”
Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City), a strong critic of the state’s current police legislation, received praise for sponsoring several pieces of legislation that include restructuring the state’s Maryland Police Information Act to provide access for some police and internal affairs disciplinary records. It’s named after Anton Black, a 19-year-old Black man killed in 2018 while in police custody on the Eastern Shore.
As various senators read each bill on the Senate floor, nearly 100 advocacy groups and nonprofit organizations released a statement that praised the “Anton’s Law” bill.
The compliments stopped there.
Marion Gray Hopkins, whose son was killed in a 1999 encounter with Prince George’s County police, called the Senate reform packed “insulting.”
“I have been so hopeful that this go-round would make a real difference, but when you see how this Senate package waters down police accountability, it feels like a sucker punch,” she said in the statement. “We deserve better as constituents, Marylanders and human beings.”
The House of Delegates continues to work on similar police reform legislation with some scheduled to come out of the judiciary committee next week.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) announced the bills as a top priority after the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. His death sparked international protests against police brutality and racism.
Any differences in legislation passed by the House and Senate will be discussed in a conference committee.
“There is a consensus … that change is necessary,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). “The current system of policing makes all of us less safe. Marginal change around the edges will not be sufficient to truly restore trust, accountability and transparency around law enforcement. I am confident these changes will come to fruition.”
To allow senators time to review the legislation, the Senate won’t reconvene until Tuesday.