Shooting Near Mall

Officials gather near a mall parking area where two officers on the US Marshals' task force where allegedly shot in Baltimore, according to officials, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Baltimore, Md. 

(The Center Square) – The Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability is still pushing for more progress on five critical issues it is advocating for within the state, a public policy advocate said, as new police accountability reforms take effect.

The coalition is backed by more than 90 organizations across the state.

“While we do believe that this is progress in the right direction, there's still going to be a lot of work to be done to truly ensure that officers will be held accountable for misconduct,” Yanet Amanuel, public policy advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland, a member organization, told The Center Square.

The coalition sought to get the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, first enacted in 1974, repealed. That legislation gave officers special due process rights in administrative hearings, she said. It let them have at least a five-day waiting period before giving a statement after an incident. The bill also said an officer’s guilt could only be determined through an internal trial board hearing held by other officers.

The legislation also allowed officers to get records expunged after three years. By prohibiting investigations performed by non-sworn officers from leading to discipline, it made it tough for communities to establish civilian oversight boards, Amanuel said.

“For a lot of reasons, this bill was a priority for us to repeal,” she said.

HB 670 did repeal the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights and did remove provisions like the five-day waiting period for questioning officers, expungement of disciplinary records and restrictions against non-sworn officers investigating incidents, she said.

The bill replaced those provisions with a new disciplinary process that requires civilian participation in the internal discipline process. The administrative charging committees must have a civilian majority. Committees will review investigations to decide on charges or to make disciplinary recommendations. Each Maryland county must establish a police accountability board.

HB 670 doesn’t go into effect until July 2022. Amanuel said jurisdictions such as Baltimore County negotiated collective bargaining agreements that include the old provisions. That could delay implementation of the new disciplinary rules and procedures even later than July 2022 until the collective bargaining agreements expire.

Anton’s Law, named after 19-year-old Anton Black, who died in police custody in 2018, revised the Maryland Public Information Act to allow public disclosure of police misconduct records, she said. This was critical because complainants could not find out how their complaint was investigated.

“They could only find out the disposition if the officer was found guilty,” Amanuel said.

No information was released on witnesses who were questioned or how thorough the investigation had been.

Anton's Law removed the classification of police misconduct records as personnel files, which gave them mandatory denial of inspection of the records. Unless there's an ongoing investigation or other privacy concerns, the records should be released, she said.

The law went into effect Oct. 1.

“The public also just had no information around how many officers within their departments ... were having complaints filed against them or how those complaints were handled, which really was a hindrance and continues to be a hindrance to establishing that trust between the community and the police,” she said.

Another bill establishes a statewide use-of-force policy.

“Maryland is one of nine states up until this last session that did not have a statewide use-of-force policy,” Amanuel said.

Other legislation removes police officers from schools and returns local control back to the city of Baltimore.

“We believe that black and brown communities deserve to feel safe, and that is currently not the case. We've had hundreds of killings here in Maryland at the hands of police,” she said.

Police officers cannot get the community’s help with investigations when no trust exists between them, she said.

“I want to be specific to say establish trust, because we're not talking about rebuilding trust, because that trust never existed. And that's because this history of police violence is deeply entrenched into this country's history,” Amanuel said.

As in the case of Williams Green, who died while handcuffed with his hands behind his back in a police cruiser, incidents with police officers can cost taxpayers in addition to the loss of life. A $20 million settlement over Green’s death came because it was clear an officer was in the wrong, she said.

“But this also could have 100% been prevented if there was a mechanism for uncovering who these problematic officers are before it leads to someone losing their life,” Amanuel said.