A coalition of more than 60 social justice advocacy groups are calling on Maryland legislators to support police reforms, including efforts to reduce officers’ protections in misconduct investigations and make information about those investigations more transparent to the public.
In a letter to members of the Maryland General Assembly, the coalition demands that state lawmakers pass a series of “overdue” police reforms into law during the next legislative session to “bring justice for our communities.”
“Over the past few weeks, you—our elected leaders—have issued countless statements, social media posts, and other expressions of solidarity with Black Marylanders who have suffered police abuse and our communities who demand justice,” the coalition writes. “Now, we ask you to make good on your words.”
The push comes after several Black people across the country have been killed by police, including Breonna Taylor, whom police shot in her Louisville, Kentucky apartment while executing a no-knock warrant in the middle of the night; George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes; Rayshard Brooks, whom Atlanta police shot in the back after Brooks escaped an attempted arrest pointed a stun gun at an officer; and many others.
The coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union, Baltimore Action Legal Team and other organizations, demands that lawmakers repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR), a 1974 law that places restrictions on investigations and prosecutions of police misconduct.
“Since the LEOBR was enacted in 1974, it has allowed police abuse to go unpunished,” they write. “It is past time for it to be repealed.”
Under precedents set by the U.S. Supreme Court cases of Graham v. Connor and Tennessee v. Garner, officers may use force that they believe is reasonable to arrest a person. The coalition members say that those standards have allowed law enforcement officers to use “violent and often deadly force.”
The coalition members demand that lawmakers prohibit police from using force unless it is necessary–“not merely reasonable”–and include criminal and civil penalties for those who violate that restriction.
Within that demand, the coailtion calls for a ban on certain uses of force, such as chokeholds, and guidelines that officers must exhaust in the course of a stop or arrest.
Officers would also have a duty to intervene when other officers are improperly using force, and attempt to de-escalate situations.
Police departments would also have to enact policies and guidance for limiting use of force against pregnant individuals; people under 21; elderly individuals; people with mental, behavioral or physical disabilities or impairments; people who are impaired by drugs or alcohol; people with a serious medical condition; and people who have a limited understanding of English.
The coalition demands that details about police misconduct investigations be disclosed under the Maryland Public Information Act.
The coalition members also demand that the Baltimore Police Department, which is currently a state agency, be moved under the control of Baltimore City government. The city is the only jurisdiction in Maryland that does not have authority over its own police department, the coalition said.
“This is a racist, ineffective, and inequitable law which must be changed” they write.
Lastly, the coalition wants Maryland to remove school resource officers from schools, which they say “increases the likelihood that students will face arrest for behaviors that are better addressed through non-punitive supports and interventions.”
The coalition demands that school districts be prohibited from hiring or contracting law enforcement in schools, that Baltimore City Public Schools dismantle its police force and that the state’s $10 million School Resource Officer/Adequate Coverage Grant be replaced with a grant program to fund school counselors, social workers, psychologists and behavioral specialists.
“Policing in Maryland is broken,” the coalition said in a statement. “Reforms are necessary, not optional. Anything short of enacting these five reforms is not acceptable.”
Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and all 98 Democratic delegates on Tuesday sent their own letter to Gov. Larry Hogan, calling on him to sign an executive order to implement many of the police reforms that the coalition is demanding.
The state lawmakers asked Hogan to ban chokeholds, require that deadly force only be used to “stop an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury,” require officers to intervene when seeing another officer using unnecessary force, re-train officers who have been involved in use-of-force incidents, ban shooting at vehicles and require officers within state-controlled law enforcement agencies to sign a sanctity of life pledge.
“This is not a partisan issue: I don’t care who gets the credit,” Jones said in a statement. “We need to start implementing policing changes now. With the stroke of the pen, Governor Hogan has the power to save someone’s life today.”