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Police-Reform Bills Highlight Start of MD General Assembly

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Maryland is one of only nine states without laws limiting police officers' use of force, an issue addressed in a new General Assembly bill. (Adobe Stock)
Maryland is one of only nine states without laws limiting police officers' use of force, an issue addressed in a new General Assembly bill. (Adobe Stock)
January 13, 2021

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Influenced by months of nationwide protests of police misconduct, Maryland's General Assembly opens today with lawmakers introducing multiple bills to change the way law enforcement interacts with Black and Brown communities.

House Bill 151 would repeal the state's Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights, or LOEBR, according to Joe Spielberger, public policy counsel with the ACLU of Maryland. He said the state's LEOBR goes too far in protecting officers from discipline in misconduct cases, and HB 151 would pave the way for community involvement in disciplining officers. As it now stands, he said, only other officers can investigate police abuses.

"It will allow investigations of officers to be done by people who are not sworn law enforcement officers," he said. "So, that allows local jurisdictions who choose to do so to start having the conversations around more independent civilian review boards, with the power to make disciplinary decisions."

The bill is sponsored by Del. Gabriel Acevero, D-Montgomery County. About 15 other states have LEOBRs, but Maryland's is considered among the most restrictive in terms of holding officers accountable.

Another reform bill would limit the use of force by law enforcement. Spielberger said Maryland is one of only nine states without legal limits on how officers can use force. House Bill 139 would raise legal standards and accountability so officers could use force only when absolutely necessary.

"The bill will have clear definitions of lethal force," he said, "to include things like chokeholds, multiple discharges of a Taser, strikes to the head or neck and other specific behaviors that we do not want officers to be using."

Other bills expected would remove police officers from schools and ensure transparent investigations into police conduct. They were created with recommendations by the Maryland House Workgroup on Police Reform and Accountability. It was established after widespread protests following last year's killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - MD