Local law enforcement agencies could be required to submit an annual report detailing incidents that resulted in either a monetary settlement or judgment against a police officer to the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services.
HB1248, with sponsor Del. Alonzo T. Washington, D-Prince George’s, passed the Maryland House of Delegates earlier this week.
The bill stipulates that on or before March 1, 2022, and every year thereafter law enforcement agencies would be required to submit the report detailing those incidents.
“What I came up with in this bill would directly increase the level of transparency on settlements and lawsuits for departments across the entire state,” Washington said at a Feb. 23 House Judiciary Committee hearing.
“It’s a huge benefit that we have more transparency,” Washington told Capital News Service.
The report would include: the age, gender, ethnicity and race of both the officer and individual involved in each incident as well as the date, time and location of when it occurred.
Additionally, it would highlight the dates of when the civil action was filed, when it was resolved and the amount of settlement or judgment awarded to the plaintiff, according to the bill.
“I figured if we’re having an issue in finding out where these numbers are, then other jurisdictions must be having the same issues as well,” Washington added at the hearing.
Only civil complaints that have been finalized will be included, complaints that are still in the process of litigation aren’t subject to be included in the data.
Upon receiving the report, the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services would be responsible for compiling all of the data and submitting an annual report to the General Assembly on or before June 30 each year.
Washington co-chaired a workgroup on police reform in Prince George’s County at the same time the General Assembly convened a similar workgroup focused on addressing police reform, what has become a focal point during this legislative session.
In the House, the Police Reform and Accountability Workgroup, chaired by Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary, D-Howard, convened from June to August discussing police reform initiatives.
“I sat on a task force that looked at policing in my own county and it took them months to get the information that we needed to be able to review how much spending on police-involved incidents in the county,” Washington said.
In order to find that information, Washington and the police reform group in Prince George’s county had to ask the county’s Office of Law to compile all of the information on settlements and judgments filed against police.
Those workgroups placed a heavy emphasis on increasing both transparency and accountability in police departments throughout the state.
“The issue that we’re having right now is we don’t know how much is being paid to every settlement and case that occurs,” Washington said.
At least $13 million in taxpayer money has been spent to settle claims lodged against the Gun Trace Task Force in Baltimore for several violations including being wrongfully searched or falsely arrested, according to the Baltimore Sun.
These annual reports would centralize all of the data in one location on the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services website.
Therefore, the information would be easier to access rather than it being disseminated through news agencies or spread out across the website’s of several law enforcement agencies.
The Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services did not respond to requests for information regarding the fiscal effect of the bill, according to a state legislative analysis.
“The governor will carefully review this bill should it reach his desk,” Heather Epkins, communications director in the governor’s coordinating offices told Capital News Service.
Proponents of the bill explained that this aspect of the bill would be beneficial as it would allow for taxpayers and legislators to quickly find the amount of money provided in these lawsuits.
“I believe the taxpayers need to know how much they’re spending on police involved incidents that occur throughout the state, as a taxpayer there should be some transparency in that for the money that I send to the state or these local agencies so that we know actually what’s happening,” Washington said.
After passing the House of Delegates with a 119-16 vote, the bill has been referred to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee with a hearing scheduled for March 31 at 1 p.m.