Maryland Created the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights. Now Lawmakers There Might Repeal It.

Lawmakers have tried to repeal the statute before. The latest attempt came after nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

Lawmakers have tried to repeal the statute before. The latest attempt came after nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. Shutterstock

 

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Passed in 1974, the statute grants broad workplace protections for officers accused of misconduct and has served as a blueprint for similar laws in more than a dozen other states.

Lawmakers in Maryland may rescind broad workplace protections for police officers accused of misconduct, a policy known as the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights that critics say has made it easy for problem cops to evade detection and prosecution.

“I am not someone who hates the police,” Maryland House Speaker Adrianne A. Jones, a Democrat who introduced a police reform package that includes the repeal, told the House Judiciary Committee this week. “But over the years I have had my own experiences with law enforcement, as have my brothers and my sons, that have called into question the way that we, as a state and as a society, have empowered law enforcement officers to execute their duties.”

The bill of rights statute, enacted in 1974, was the first in the nation to codify certain workplace safeguards specifically for police officers. Those protections include granting officers five business days before cooperating with inquiries into their conduct, ensuring that a jury of fellow police officers determines guilt or innocence, and automatic expungement of complaints after a set time period. 

Lawmakers have attempted to repeal the statute before, most recently following the 2018 death of Anton Black, a 19-year-old Black man who was killed by police in Greensboro, Md. Body camera footage showed him running from police, being Tasered and going limp as three officers pinned him to the ground. 

His sister, LaToya Holley, has urged lawmakers for years to enact reforms. On Tuesday, she testified again, telling members of the judiciary committee that she’d run out of new ways to ask for changes.

“What are the right words?” she said. “Do they exist? Or do they fall on deaf ears?”

This year’s repeal push comes in the wake of nationwide protests over police brutality and racial justice issues, and at the recommendation of a House Workgroup on Police Reform and Accountability

Police advocates said the law is necessary to ensure due process for officers accused of misconduct. If it’s repealed, police departments will have a harder time retaining good officers, said Clyde Boatwright, president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police.

“If you could be unfairly fired by the end of the shift while the gentleman or lady is in custody...and you could be fired by your police chief—you know, you don’t want police officers second-guessing themselves,” he testified at Tuesday’s hearing.

The House committee has yet to vote on the bill. If it passes there, the legislation returns to the full House for debate.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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