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Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, seated next to Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore City), testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on a bill that would create a new felony for police who commit crimes while on duty. (Photo by Roberto Alejandro)

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake faced down tough questions from lawmakers in Annapolis while testifying in favor of creating a new felony for police officers that commit crimes while on duty.

House Bill 363, sponsored by Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore City) on behalf of the mayor, creates a felony of’misconduct in office’ for any law enforcement officer who commits a misdemeanor or felony while on duty. This would carry possible sentences of over one year to 10 years, with sentence running consecutively to any other sentence received by the officer for her crimes.

In her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on March 12, Rawlings-Blake said that many in the Baltimore community feel police officers are held to a different standard than citizens when they commit crimes, and that this bill would fight that perception, improving public trust in the police.

“House bill 363 is intended to provide a state’s attorney with the option to pursue new felony charges when a law enforcement officer has committed a misdemeanor or a felony . . . while acting in the course of the officer’s official duties,” said the mayor.

Rawlings-Blake also noted that there is precedent in Maryland law for a statute of this nature, since a second-degree assault (a misdemeanor) committed against a law enforcement officer acting in her official capacity gives rise to a felony assault charge for citizens.

Questioning from two former law enforcement officers on the committee, Del. John Cluster (R-Baltimore County) and Del. William Folden (R-Frederick County), showed concern that the bill would create a separate standard for police officers, and questioned whether the process established by Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill Of Rights already provided a sufficient mechanism for handling criminal conduct by officers.

Cluster asked whether if public trust in officers of the state was the driving concern behind House Bill 363, should not the new felony also apply to legislators? “If the delegate is so inclined to feel that elected officials should be included, I would not oppose,” said Rawlings-Blake.

Folden asked the mayor to provide the current number of Baltimore City police officers that would be impacted by this law if it were already on the books. Mayor Rawlings-Blake said she did not have the number in front of her but that her staff could provide the delegate with the requested information.

While the mayor stood her ground, none of the questioning from the committee members suggested there was strong support for the proposed bill. One delegate asked if it wouldn’t be preferable for an official task force to study police-community relations issues and how to best address these issues.

ralejandro@afro.com