Issue Paper 2022 – Police Reform

In response to nationwide outrage over police brutality that is disproportionately inflicted on Black and Brown citizens, and after years of work by representatives in the Maryland General Assembly (MGA), victim’s families, and advocacy groups, the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 was passed last session. The Act is a large four part package of policing legislation that includes significant law enforcement reforms. Passed by veto override after months of negotiations, the Act includes: Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) reform, repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR), limitations on use of force, local control of the Baltimore City Police Department, required body worn cameras, and much more. 

The Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability (MCJPA) includes over 90 organizations, including LWVMD, that advocated for five reforms in 2021. The League provided testimony on five bills. Of the bills supported by MCJPA, all were included in the Act with the exception of the removal of police from schools. The coalition was not entirely satisfied with the legislation and there remains work to do in some areas. 

The League’s support of police accountability reform legislation is based on Virginia Case’s 2020 statement in support of the federal Justice in Policing Act, which signals the support for police reform legislation. Additionally, based on the LWVUS position on Individual Liberties (below), the case can be made that the provisions of the Constitution have not been equally applied for all Americans, and have been stretched to their limit when it comes to law enforcement and people of color. 

“The League of Women Voters of the United States believes in the individual liberties guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. The League is convinced that individual rights now protected by the Constitution should not be weakened or abridged,”

The LWVUS Racial Justice Resolution and a wide variety of other positions also support police accountability reforms.

Priorities for the 2022 Session include the introduction of three bills and ongoing support for two bills passed last session. While the bills to be introduced in the MGA can be supported through testimony and meetings with legislators, the Police Accountability Board (PAB) legislation and MPIA support will require coordination with local leagues and coalitions. Both of these tactics will be used in support of these police accountability reforms this session.

Counselors Not Cops 

In 2021, legislation was sponsored by Del. Jheanelle Wilkins to remove school resource officers and fund mental health resources. Every Maryland school district utilizes school police, also known as School Resource Officers (SROs) despite evidence that police presence criminalizes students for minor behaviors without addressing serious safety threats, perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline. This bill is based on the lack of reliable evidence that SROs keep students and educators safe, as well the fact that police in schools disproportionately harm Black students and students with disabilities.

Empower the Baltimore Civilian Review Board

The responsibilities and functions of the Baltimore City Civilian Review Board, as established in the 1999 statute, are largely duplicative of those required of a new police accountability board. Due to the conflicting statutes, during the 2022 legislative session, the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability – led by partners who are directly impacted by police abuse and including members of the current Baltimore City Civilian Review Board – will support a bill to ensure that the CRB structure and authority remains intact while giving it the additional powers and scope of police accountability boards. 

Updates to Body Worn Camera Legislation 

Under consideration is a bill to require body-worn cameras for plain-clothes police officers, but information about this bill is still to be determined. 

Implementation of Anton’s Law

Baltimore Action Legal Team (BALT) is developing an overview of how to use the MPIA and the impact of Anton’s Law. Education, support, and monitoring is needed to ensure that unreasonable barriers, such as exorbitant fees for body camera footage, does not prevent the successful implementation of the law. 

County Police Accountability Boards

Every county and municipality in Maryland must implement a Police Accountability Board (PAB) by July 2022 (or a date defined locally in an MOU) to receive police misconduct complaints, appoint civilians to the Administrative Charging Committee, and to make policy recommendations. Local governments must draft legislation that define how the PABs are implemented, including composition, terms, funding, staffing, etc. A weakness of the Act is that it leaves room for local governments to pass legislation that does not adhere to the intent of holding police accountable to communities. Local groups will need to work together to demand transparency from county governments and advocate for legislation that enables community oversight of misconduct. 

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