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As states grapple with the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, few have passed laws surrounding officer misconduct. Maryland legislators overturned Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of police reform bills on April 10, 2021.
One of the bills repeals a highly criticized law that guarantees certain procedural safeguards to law enforcement officers during the disciplinary process. In 1974, Maryland approved the nation’s first Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR), approved in 1974. At least 20 states ratified similar laws.
On Saturday, David Simon, a journalist, posted a Twitter thread about a legal loophole that makes it impossible to indict or punish officers for using lethal force. If officers claim they thought or felt they or others were in harm’s way.
Under LEOBR, Simon added, officers are not required to prove the threat was valid, only that it was reasonable for them to think their action was prudent.
If written well, their report would be all they need to justify why they determined it was necessary to use lethal force.
The language in the bill of rights obstructed reform attempts from Maryland’s police departments.
Nonetheless, the Democrat-dominated Maryland General Assembly worked on the reforms for months. Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Dist. 44-Baltimore County) sponsored one of the measures explains he was compelled to see changes made in how police are disciplined. He recalled attending and participating in numerous protests where people demanded change; people of all races, the young and the old from all walks of life.
Maryland is the first state to repeal the LEOBR. They replaced it with House Bill 670 — the Police Reform and Accountability Act of 2021. The act puts procedures in place that give civilians a part in the disciplinary process.
The reform package more than doubles the maximum civil liability limit on lawsuits involving police; $400,000 to $890,000. Additionally, if an officer is convicted of causing death or grave injury through excessive force would be sentenced to 10 years in prison.
One of the measures called for the mandated use of body cameras to be fully instituted by 2025. Another proposal would expand the public’s ability to access public records in disciplinary cases. It would also limit the use of no-knock warrants and restricting the execution of them to 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. except in the event of an emergency.
Gov. Hogan’s veto letter said the reform bills undermine the goal he believes he shares with the state’s general assembly leaders to build transparent, accountable, and effective law enforcement departments and further crumble officer morale, community relationships, and public trust.
Moreover, the Maryland governor added that the bills would damage police recruitment and retention, thereby placing a great risk on public safety.
The General Assembly, led by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), overwhelmingly voted to overturn the vetoes. On Friday night, after the bills were vetoed, the House of Delegates voted 95 to 42, and on Saturday morning, the state Senate passed the act 31 to 16.
Opponents complained the measures went too far. Maryland state Sen. Robert G. Cassilly (R-Dist. 34 Hartford County) contends the legislation is “anti-cop.”
Maryland legislators overrode another of Hogan’s vetoes. The bill would ban life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole for individuals under 18.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
The Washington Post: Maryland enacts landmark police overhaul, first state to repeal police bill of rights; by Ovetta Wiggins and Erin Cox
Newsweek: Maryland Becomes First State to Nix Its Police Bill of Rights as Lawmakers Override Governor’s Veto; by Nicole Fallert
NPR: Maryland Lawmakers Override Vetoes On Sweeping Police Reform
Featured and Top Image by Marylandstater Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image Courtesy of Roxanne Ready’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Second Inset Image Courtesy of Maryland GovPics’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License