Posted on April 13, 2021

Maryland Enacts Landmark Police Overhaul

Ovetta Wiggins and Erin Cox, Washington Post, April 10, 2021

Maryland enacted historic police accountability measures Saturday, becoming the first state to repeal its powerful Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and setting new rules for when police may use force and how they are investigated and disciplined.

The Democratic-majority legislature dealt Republican Gov. Larry Hogan a sharp rebuke, overriding his vetoes of measures that raise the bar for officers to use force; give civilians a role in police discipline for the first time; restrict no-knock warrants; mandate body cameras; and open some allegations of police wrongdoing for public review.


“Maryland is leading the nation in transforming our broken policing system,” said House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), who sponsored the repeal of the officers’ bill of rights and is the first Black person to hold her leadership role. {snip}

The changes do not go as far as some social justice advocates had hoped: Discipline will now largely be decided by civilian panels, for example, but police chiefs maintain a role. Some activists wanted the panels to act independently of police.

Still, the legislation imposes one of the strictest police use-of-force standards in the nation, according to experts; requires officers to prioritize de-escalation tactics; and imposes a criminal penalty for those found to have used excessive force.

During months of debate, many White Republican lawmakers talked about the dangers police officers face on the job and said the bills would remove needed protections. Black Democratic lawmakers responded with passionate and personal arguments for why police officers need better training and said they hoped the legislation would change policing culture and attitudes toward Black people.


Hogan, who is weighing a presidential bid in 2024, has built a varied record on criminal justice issues — championing drug treatment rather than jail time for nonviolent offenses but aggressively seeking tougher penalties for violent crimes. He has refused to free many prisoners approved for release by the state’s parole board and has consistently sided with police unions in matters regarding officer protections and accountability.

In his veto letter Friday night, Hogan wrote that the three policing bills would “erode police morale, community relationships and public confidence.”

“This will result in great damage to police recruitment and retention, posing significant risks to public safety throughout our state,” the letter said.

Also on Saturday, the General Assembly overturned an earlier Hogan veto of a bill that would abolish life sentences without parole for juveniles. The legislation allows prisoners who were juveniles when they were convicted to appeal to a judge for release after they have served 20 years.


Hogan allowed two other police accountability bills to become law without his signature. One puts in place a process to return the Baltimore Police Department to local control for the first time since 1860. The other, which takes effect in October, shifts the investigation of police-involved fatalities from local authorities to an independent unit in the state attorney general’s office. It also bans police departments from acquiring surplus military equipment.


In casting the first of those override votes, Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard), who led a House police restructuring work group over the summer, said the measures were not “anti-police legislation — this is equality and fairness legislation.”

“This was painstakingly put together for Black and Brown folks in our state,” Atterbeary said on the House floor, reciting the names of more than a half dozen Maryland residents who were killed in interactions with police. “It’s time for police officers who don’t follow the proper law to pay the consequences.”


Clyde Boatwright, the president of the state’s Fraternal Order of Police, thanked Hogan in a statement Saturday for “standing with the men and women of law enforcement.”

In an interview, he said his members are most concerned about the new use-of-force standard, which says a police officer may not use force against a person unless “under the totality of the circumstances, the force is necessary and proportional.” Republican critics of the standard have called it too vague and said courts will have to decide what the language means.

Under the statute, an officer who uses excessive force faces criminal penalties, up to 10 years in prison. The bill, which also mandates the use of police body cameras across the state, takes effect in stages. The training and use-of-force limits begin in July 2022, while body cameras are required by different deadlines for different jurisdictions and statewide by July 2025.