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Errant law enforcement officers may be at risk of losing their pensions if they are convicted of crimes committed on the job.
Sponsored by Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), Senate Bill 47 would subject officers to forfeiture of all or part of their pensions if they are found guilty of or plead guilty or no contest to a crime committed while on duty.
“Allowing citizen-funded payouts to officers who egregiously violate the laws they are sworn to uphold, endangering the public in direct conflict with their public appointment to protect and serve cannot continue,” Carter (D-Baltimore City) said at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee’s Pensions Subcommittee on Thursday morning.
The bill also has provisions to ensure that spouses and other dependents are protected. Should an officer be ordered to forfeit their pension, a judge may order that all or some of the forfeited benefits be paid to them.
Should the bill pass, officers would join the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, state treasurer, secretary of state and all members of General Assembly on the short list of public employees whose contracts have pension forfeiture provisions.
Carter called her bill “part of the ongoing and critical effort for police accountability.”
The General Assembly passed a sweeping package of police reform bills in 2021. Taking an officer’s’ pension as a punitive measure was initially proposed in an omnibus bill sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) in 2021 but was amended out before the bill hit the governor’s desk.
Carter has introduced this policy before — the last time was in 2014, when she was a member of the House of Delegates. It died after receiving an unfavorable vote from the House Appropriations Committee.
Neill Franklin, a retired Maryland state trooper, testified in favor of the bill Thursday on behalf of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership. He said that none of the members of his organization has spoken out against the legislation, noting that they all took an oath — which he called a “contract” with the public.
If that contract is broken, Franklin said, the pension should disappear.
“We, the police, have always said that crime should never pay,” he told lawmakers. “Imagine being convicted of falsifying overtime for thousands of dollars. Should that employee receive benefits if convicted? Should he be rewarded for lying to the public in courts of law? How can any of us who have vowed to uphold the law not support this legislation?”
Baltimore Comptroller Bill Henry (D) also testified in favor of Carter’s bill, saying that the Board of Estimates has regularly dealt with settlement agreements requiring the city to pay for damages because of the behavior of law enforcement officers.
Notably, Henry said that, over the past five years, the board has issued $14.3 million in settlements related to the Baltimore Police Department’s notorious Gun Trace Task Force — from which eight Baltimore officers and one Philadelphia officer faced various charges including racketeering, robbery and extortion related to their shakedown of drug dealers.
“We have had to compensate citizens for the actions of police officers who were, themselves, then found guilty of crimes and terminated from the department,” he said. “I’m here because if the city is going to be stuck paying for their crimes, we should have the authority to recover our own damages from the officers’ pension benefits.”
“We should not have to continue paying for police officers’ criminal conduct without having any recourse,” Henry added.
Clyde Boatwright, president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, testified against the bill, saying that the state has seen enough police reform and that this legislation goes too far.
“We spent all of last year on police reform, we’ve significantly changed policing in the state of Maryland to address a few people who were criminals acting as though they were police officers,” he said. “They are now in jail where they belong. “
“The one question I have to ask is: When does it stop?” he asked.
Boatwright argued that pensions are contracts between state and local law enforcement agencies and the officers they are trying to attract and retain.
“Once that contract is signed, if we start taking pensions away from police officers what’s next? Their health care?” Boatwright asked.