Work group develops police accountability recommendations

WASHINGTON — A Maryland legislative work group has passed on a list of 21 recommendations for how police departments should handle everything from equipping officers to making sure they undergo regular mental health screenings.

The Maryland Public Safety and Policing Work Group spent hours discussing a list of recommendations that will be passed on to House and Senate leadership for action during the upcoming General Assembly session that starts Wednesday.

Vince Canales, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, says he has some concerns about the call for routine mental health screenings. He called that provision “a bit of a reach.”

Canales says right now “agencies definitely have the ability to send an officer for an evaluation if they see there’s a situation that presents itself.” Also, he had concerns about the privacy of medical records. But overall, Canales said, “we’re not prepared to sit and say one way or the other that we’re fighting anything just yet. We want to see what the actual bills look like.”

Maryland State Sen. Catherine Pugh, whose district includes Baltimore City, says the recommendations are designed to improve police-community relations, badly strained since the death of Freddie Gray who died in the back of a Baltimore City Police van. Six officers have been accused in connection with his death, which triggered rioting in Baltimore.

The panel also wants to limit the time a law enforcement officer can take to retain an attorney for internal investigations from 10 days to five days. Advocates for stronger police accountability measures say the 10-day period prevents an officer under investigation from being interrogated for up to 10 days after an alleged incident.

The recommendations are to be considered in the upcoming legislative session, which begins Wednesday.

Other recommendations approved by the panel include:

—Requiring all law enforcement agencies in the state to open their administrative Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights hearing board proceedings to the public.

—Creating a uniform process for filing complaints in all state jurisdictions and publishing them on department websites.

—Eliminating a requirement that a complaint alleging excessive force must be notarized. It would be replaced by a requirement that the person making the complaint sign it under the penalty of perjury.

—Creating whistle-blower protections to protect officers who participate in investigations.

—Requiring law enforcement agencies to complete a use of force report by the end of a shift.

—Establishing an independent Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission to focus on best practices, standards and training.

About half of the recommendations relate to suggestions regarding the new commission, including representation by state and local officials as well as local law enforcement administrators. The panel also recommended that the commission develop standards for psychological evaluation after traumatic incidents, as well as periodic mental health counseling.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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