Maryland lawmakers passed a landmark police reform package aimed at delivering greater transparency and accountability Wednesday, sending the wide-ranging legislation to Gov. Larry Hogan after months of intense debate, reports the Baltimore Sun. The package of legislation would rewrite how officers accused of misconduct are disciplined, create a new statewide standard for when officers are allowed to use force, impose new potential criminal penalties — including up to 10 years in prison — for officers who use excessive force, and grant public access to some police disciplinary records. Officers would need to jump through additional hoops to obtain no-knock search warrants or raid homes at night. Deaths of civilians at the hands of law enforcement anywhere in the state would be investigated by a newly created independent unit at the Maryland attorney general’s office. And officers convicted of certain crimes could be fired immediately and stripped of their law enforcement certification. All police agencies in Maryland would have to adopt body-camera use by July 1, 2025.
Among the package’s central provisions is a repeal of Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a 1974 law that critics allege shields dirty officers from scrutiny or discipline and that Maryland was the first state in the nation to pass and is now on the verge of becoming the first to repeal. Complaints against officers would instead be weighed by a civilian administrative charging committee. Minimum punishments for each type of infraction or misconduct would be laid out by a disciplinary matrix and chiefs or sheriffs could only dole out tougher, but not lesser, sanctions. Officers convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors — including any crime committed on duty — could be fired immediately without a separate internal affairs investigation. Law enforcement officials and Republican lawmakers loudly criticized certain provisions and it’s unclear whether Hogan, a Republican, might veto part or all of the four-piece package.