Debate on police reforms continues in Annapolis

Next week, Maryland’s Senate will debate a group of bills on police reform.

On Friday, Senate President Bill Ferguson presented the bills on the floor, praising the work of the committee that sent the bills to the chamber for a second reading.

“The goal here is not to punish individual officers. This is about establishing true accountability, transparency and trust in the system of policing,” Ferguson said during a Friday news conference before the session.

However, a coalition of 90 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, criticized the reforms in the legislation, saying they do not go far enough.

A news release from the ACLU of Maryland included a statement from Marion Gray Hopkins, president of the Coalition of Concerned Mothers: “This is insulting, and I call upon the House of Delegates to do better.”

Hopkins said the Senate package on reform had been amended in such a way that it “waters down police accountability; it feels like a sucker punch.”

In anticipation of criticism over the bills, Ferguson told reporters, “Certainly there are bills that not everyone agrees with, and that is what democracy looks like. These have been really hard conversations.”

Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery County, who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the legislation “really does represent the most broad, sweeping and meaningful change in policing and community relations in over 40 years.”

Sen. Jill Carter, D-Baltimore City, who has been a supporter of police reforms, including repealing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, said, “Is the package that we passed perfect? No. Is it the most comprehensive reform that we’ve ever done? Yes.”

The nine bills include measures that do away with the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and instead would create new procedures for dealing with police misconduct.

Carter explained that one piece of legislation, SB 178, would allow expanded access to a police officer’s personnel record. “For far too long, officer’s misconduct records have been shielded due to their being labeled as personnel files,” Carter said.

One measure, SB 626, would create a “duty to report” and a “duty to intervene” when officers witness misconduct.

Another bill would require that officers not only wear their body-worn cameras, but deploy them in the course of their work. Still another bill would restrict the use of no-knock warrants.

Ferguson said the discussions that generated the package of reform bills were challenging, with vigorous debate in committee.

“Conversations in the committee have not been easy. But this is what the legislative process looks like,” and Ferguson added, “What that process has yielded today is a package of bills that will make all of us safe — citizens, residents and police alike.”

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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