Annapolis 2021: Real law enforcement reform in Maryland?

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(By Good luck images_Shutterstock)

By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
syoes@afro.com

Even as HR7120, known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act sits in the Senate after passing out of the House on March 3, advocates for real law enforcement reform in Maryland are fighting for perhaps the most comprehensive legislation to combat police misconduct in the state’s history.

This week, legislators are grappling with some of the language of HB 670 on the floor of the Maryland House of Delegates, after coming out of the House Judiciary Committee.

The main provisions of HB 670 aim to dismantle police protections that have allowed members of law enforcement to brutalize mostly Black people, other people of color and poor people with impunity for generations.

According to Yanet Amanuel, public policy advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland there are three major components of HB 670: repealing and replacing the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBR), reforming the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) and limiting police use of force.

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“One of the main objectives for repealing LEOBR was because it gave officers special rights and made it more difficult to discipline a police officer than any other public employee, both because of LEOBR’s procedural protections and more substantive protections,” Amanuel said. Maryland’s LEOBR enacted in 1974, is the oldest and most comprehensive set of protections for law enforcement officers in the nation.

“So our goal was to create a process that would make it easier to impose discipline, in line with how it is done for other civil servants,” she added. “But, as it’s currently drafted, HB 670 will make it even more difficult to discipline a police officer than it is now. Now, not only will internal affairs need to decide to charge, but so will an Administrative Charging Committee (ACC). This creates an additional barrier to disciplining an officer.”

Advocates like Amanuel and others will continue to push for changes to the bill’s language as the process moves forward.

“The Senate did a good job on MPIA (making police investigatory records available for public discourse), but a bad job on use of force and even worse on LEOBR repeal by gutting the community oversight language that would empower the community to adjudicate and impose discipline on police officers,” said Dayvon Love, director of public policy for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS), a Baltimore grassroots think tank. “The House did better on use of force, but not good on MPIA and not good on LEOBR because of the lack of having true civilian oversight,” Love added.

Love, along with Adam Jackson, CEO of LBS, as well as the other members of the Black advocacy group have been fighting for police reform since before the Uprising of 2015. In previous years significant strides had been made, but this year may be the best chance for substantive change.

If HB 670 passes the House it heads back to the Senate before final passage into law is possible. The 2021, legislative session ends April 6.

“Hopefully we will get meaningful community oversight language amended on the House floor, and a strong MPIA and use of force language,” Love said.

“But, all of this will require strong and consistent pressure from the public in order to get meaningful police accountability legislation and not the symbolic gestures that we are used to getting from Maryland Democrats.”