A big topic of discussion this session has been the police reform bills that have been introduced. We have seen a lot in the news and around our state and nation about the accusations against police officers regarding their interactions with the public. While we know there will always be bad actors in every profession, I believe as a whole our officers serve our communities well.
Unfortunately, not everyone believes the same way as I do, and so there were several bills offered on the subject of police reform. While some of the bills made good changes, several of them attempted to make wide reaching changes to our policing system. Thankfully, my colleagues that heard these bills in the Judicial Proceedings Committee were able to work to create good policy and temper the wide reaching changes that were proposed. While no bill is perfect, and I did not agree with every bill or change, I do think we were able to make some improvements to what was initially offered. Provided below are a few of the bills that were voted on in the Senate.
Senate Bill 71 required that all police officers wear body cameras while on duty. There were a few concerns raised, but I believe that the overall concept of this bill promoted transparency and safety for both the officer and public. The vote was unanimous in the Senate.
Senate Bill 178 dealt with making, among other things, mere accusations and complaints against officers completely open to the public. The proponents argued that this would ensure that an officer’s alleged misconduct would not be a personnel matter to be dealt with internally within the police department. Opponents argued that it if there was no finding of wrongdoing, the record, which would now be public, presented certain due process issues and could be prejudicial to officers. There were several amendments offered. Sen. West offered an amendment to this bill to make the Maryland Legislature abide by the same requirements. In fact, he stated, “If we believe that our police departments are hotbeds of corruption and undisciplined, unprofessional conduct, and we need to clean out the Augean stables by making public all complaints filed against our men and women in blue, whether there’s any merit to them or not, we should apply the exact same rule to the Maryland General Assembly.”
I supported this amendment, but unfortunately it was rejected. The bill passed 29-18. I voted against the bill because I believe we should have transparency in knowing police misconduct. However, I believe this bill went too far as to airing unfounded accusations and complaints that are found to not be true. Senate Bill 419 as it was originally introduced would have eliminated no-knock warrants. Several amendments were offered to prevent complete elimination of no-knock warrants and the bill passed unanimously in the Senate.
Senate Bill 600 requires that all deaths allegedly caused by a police officer be immediately investigated by the Attorney General as soon as the respective law enforcement agency has knowledge of the occurrence. This bill also requires that the Attorney General prosecute the police officer involved, if there is enough evidence to build a case. This bill passed unanimously in the committee and in the Senate.
Senate Bill 627 was originally a repeal of the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights. I voted against the bill as I thought it was too broad in its application and would hinder officers in being able to effectively do their jobs. This bill passed in the Senate with a vote of 33-14. All of these bills will now pass over to the House to be debated, potentially amended and then voted on. Any changes the House makes may start the debate all over again.