The Public Safety and Policing Workgroup held its inaugural meeting on June 8, in Annapolis. Co-chairs Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore City) and Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore City) presided over the first meeting. (Photo by Roberto Alejandro)

The new Public Safety and Policing Workgroup of the Maryland General Assembly has begun holding hearings on law enforcement practices in Maryland. The group is moving towards generating a slate of bills for next year’s legislative session to help improve relations between police departments and communities across the state.

Co-chaired by majority leader Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore City), and chair of the Baltimore City delegation to the House, Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore City), the workgroup received an overview of Maryland law enforcement from the Department of Legislative Services. There was also a presentation on the state’s role in certifying police officers from representatives of the Police and Correctional Training Commissions, at the first meeting, held on June 8.

According to the presentation by the Department of Legislative Services, Baltimore City is alone among Maryland’s 24 political subdivisions (23 counties plus Baltimore City) in possessing a crime rate that exceeds 4,800 crimes per 100,000 residents. It is also the only subdivision whose police department does not receive direct state aid, a function of an agreement between the city and the state in which the latter foots the bill for the Baltimore City Detention Center and Central Booking, but at the cost of not giving any direct aid to the Baltimore Police Department.

The workgroup’s most pointed questions, however, were reserved for J. Michael Zeigler and Albert Liebno, executive and deputy directors, respectively, for the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions.

Under questioning from both chairs, Zeigler testified that while all law enforcement agencies are required to have some form of psychological evaluation as part of their training and recruitment process, individual departments are responsible for determining the standards recruits must meet in order to pass the evaluation, as well as who performs the evaluation itself. There is also no requirement that police officers receive more than an initial psychological evaluation.

“They’re required by law to recertify with their weapon every year, why shouldn’t we also want to make sure they’re not crazy every year?” asked Anderson rhetorically in comments to the AFRO after the initial workgroup hearing.

Anderson said he expects a slate of bills to come out of the workgroup that will hopefully carry the bipartisan sponsorship of all 22 committee members, helping to give the recommended pieces of legislation more traction heading into the 2016 legislative session. Anderson also expects recommendations to amend Maryland’s controversial law enforcement officers bill of rights (LEOBR).

“There’s going to be big changes,” said Anderson. “We already have some concessions from the Fraternal Order of Police about changes that they would agree with in the LEOBR, for instance, making the trial boards more transparent. Allowing people to be there. Allowing the results to be posted. Changing the 180 day rule, so that a person can file a suit against a police officer in more than 180 days. So there’s a lot of low hanging fruit that can get done, but there may be some more comprehensive things that we can do as well.”

Pugh was a bit more cautious in making predictions about what might come out of the work group, but stressed the importance of having diverse representation among the workgroup’s members because it gives more credibility to whatever its end product ultimately is. “I’m not sure what the end result will be, but what we do know is that we have to hear from the public, we need to hear from the police department, and we need to hear from some experts in terms of how we present – if we present – legislation moving forward,” said Pugh.

The next meeting of the Public Safety and Policing Workgroup will take place at 1 p.m. in Annapolis (6 Bladen St., room 101) on June 23, where it will hear testimony on recruitment and hiring practices for law enforcement in the state.