Law enforcement officials and some of the police’s most fervent critics agreed during a four-hour state Senate hearing Thursday that the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights needs to be changed. They disagreed, however, on the scope of the change.
The controversial Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, or LEOBR, governs police internal investigations and discipline. Critics say it gives too much protection to police who violate rules or even the law.
Thursday’s hearing before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee focused on two competing proposals, both sponsored by state Sen. Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat. One would repeal the law. The other would leave the law in place but make numerous changes.
Carter said she would prefer the complete repeal.
“The police exist because of the very people that they serve, and so they should not be on a pedestal above the people,” Carter said. “It’s time for us to say as a matter of policy, we don’t condone that process, that two-tier system any longer.”
Among the changes proposed if the law is left in place, complaints would no longer need to be made under oath and could be filed up to three years after an incident. Civilian police employees, not just officers, could conduct investigations. New administrative charging committees would decide an investigation’s outcome. Certain types of misconduct could not be expunged from an officer’s record, and misconduct eligible for expungement would need to remain on an officer’s record for at least five years, up from the current three. And records related to complaints that an officer committed misconduct while on the job would be public record.
“They’re public servants, and their disciplinary findings should not be shrouded in secrecy,” Carter said.
Many at the hearing agreed with Carter that the LEOBR needs to be repealed.
“Law enforcement officers deserve due process when facing discipline like any other public employee, but the LEOBR is not due process,” said David Rocah, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. “It is special rights for police officers, and it has to end.”
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