Justice Department officials meeting with Baltimore community leaders about the death of Freddie Gray heard repeated complaints about a state law that gives special legal protections to police officers suspected of abusing their power. The New York Times says the law is similar to at least a dozen across the U.S. known as police officers' bills of rights. Maryland's, dating from the early 1970s, was the first and goes the furthest in offering layers of legal protection to police. It gives officers 10 days before they must talk to investigators. “There should be no reason why they should have 10 days to get their story together,” said Tré Murphy of the Baltimore United for Change Coalition. “They are not being held accountable, and frankly, we need to do something about it.” The law has been a concern of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “When I [tried] to fight for reform, simple reform of the enforcement bill of rights, people looked at me like I had three eyes,” she said. Jill Carter, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, introduced a bill that would have eliminated the 10-day rule. The legislation never advanced out of committee in the face of intense opposition from police unions.
State laws allow officers between 24 hours and several days before they are forced to speak to investigators. The laws may provide protections unavailable to civilians, including limiting the amount of time officers can be questioned and prohibiting investigators from lying to obtain an admission of wrongdoing. Police say they need protections because officers can face dismissal if they refuse to answer questions from superiors. They say the bill of rights laws are critical in safeguarding the constitutional rights of the police and point to studies that show people involved in traumatic events have more reliable memories of the encounter after at least one night of sleep. “Your initial recollections tend to be blurred and distorted, and so before an officer makes inaccurate statements, he has a chance to compose himself,” said James Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 325,000 sworn law enforcement officers. Pasco said social media and other new technologies had made the public accustomed to receiving information ever-faster, which has exerted pressure on investigators and officers involved in high-profile cases in which they have used deadly force.