This week, the Maryland State Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hear testimony on several police reform bills in a rare interim session. While legislative committees often hold informational hearings between regular sessions, it is uncommon for a committee to do so and also consider active bills that may be submitted to the full legislature.
With the country embroiled in discussions surrounding effective policing reform, Maryland is pushing for immediate legislative action and the committee chairman, Democratic Sen. William C. Smith Jr., has laid out a robust agenda. Chairman Smith and the Judicial Proceedings Committee should be commended for taking action on these issues of critical importance. However, such action will be of little consequence if none of these reforms make it beyond the committee room walls.
Topics on the agenda  include: the implementation of use-of-force standards, creation of a duty to intervene, demilitarization of local police, requirements for the usage of body cameras and footage collected from them, as well as an overhaul of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR). While no single reform will mend our broken policing system, these proposed changes have the potential to achieve meaningful institutional reform. Our recommendations for changes to consider are detailed below.
First, the legislature should help rehabilitate the toxic police culture in the state by increasing transparency surrounding use-of-force policies and providing communities with the necessary departments and tools for accountability. One way to accomplish this goal is to pair officer-worn body cameras with the ability to release collected footage, when it is deemed appropriate.
Second, clamping down on police use of military equipment is critical in to change how law enforcement departments interact with their communities. When weapons of war are on neighborhood streets, the likelihood of violent, negative interaction increases. The main mechanism for the transfer of such equipment is the Pentagon’s 1033 Program, a voluntary initiative that permits the federal government to transfer military-grade weaponry to local police departments. Maryland lawmakers are proposing bans on the transfer of armored or weaponized aircraft, firearm silencers and grenade launchers, but not recommending limits on the transfer of necessary items such as bulletproof vests, cold-weather mittens or refurbished laptops.
Finally, the Committee plans to discuss  eliminating provisions codified under the LEOBR. Many police officers benefit from departmental protections that diminish individual accountability. Like any other person who acts violently and breaks the law, police officers must face fair standards and due process in disciplinary matters. However, protections afforded to police officers go far beyond fairness, indeed, favoring bad officers over the public’s interest. The proposed changes to the LEOBR will address the two major components of the disciplinary process: how complaints are investigated internally and the required procedures once an investigation results in disciplinary action.
The committee is set to begin their discussion on Tuesday with the use of force continuum. However, other topics will almost certainly arise including the addition of de-escalation practices into use-of-force policies and the creation of new internal accountability measures.
Maryland stands ready to be a leader in policing reform, now all that remains is for legislators to take the first step.
- “agenda”: http://www.mgaleg.maryland.gov/pubs-current/JPR%20Meeting%20Material%20-%20September%2022,%202020.pdf
- “discuss”: http://www.mgaleg.maryland.gov/pubs-current/JPR%20Meeting%20Material%20-%20September%2024,%202020.pdf