One year after the Maryland General Assembly passed sweeping police reform measures in the wake of nationwide social unrest over the death of George Floyd, most efforts made during this legislative session to fine-tune the measures stalled.
Police reform was one of the biggest priorities for lawmakers in the 2021 session. Legislators passed the Police Accountability Act of 2021, which limited police officers’ use of force, restricted the use of no-knock warrants and repealed the state’s law enforcement Bill of Rights.
The Police Accountability Act also established a unit within the state Attorney General’s office to investigate police-involved deaths of civilians.
One bill debated this legislative session — Senate Bill 896 — looked to expedite the process for the Attorney General’s involvement in the Police Accountability Act’s provisions.
Under the Police Accountability Act, the Attorney General has 15 days to provide an investigative report to the local state’s attorney if an officer is involved in a civilian death. Senate Bill 896, sponsored by Sen. William Smith (D-Montgomery), would have given the Attorney General the ability to prosecute the officer immediately after the investigation, before giving the responsibility to the local state’s attorney.
“I’m watching what we’re doing again, this session, and it seems like we’re continuing the theme of anti-police legislation,” Sen. Robert Cassily (R-Harford County) said during the Senate floor debate on the bill on April 5.
The Senate narrowly approved Smith’s measure with less than a week left in the legislative session, but the House failed to move the bill during the five days it sat in its chamber.
Another bill that would have provided numerous clarifications to the Maryland Police Accountability Act, sponsored by Sen. Michael Jackson (D-Prince George’s), also passed out of the Senate but was never assigned to a House committee.
The bill would have clarified protocols for training, membership and certification of officers in the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission — the body established by the state legislature to govern police certification and training in the state.
Other efforts that looked to extend police reform also failed to make it to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk by the end of this year’s 90-day legislative session.
Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery) proposed legislation that would require all law enforcement agencies to use body cameras by 2025. Currently, only county and state police are required to adopt these changes.
“There are 150 plus law enforcement agencies in Maryland, but most of them are not agencies of counties,” Chevy Chase Police Department Chief John Fitzgerald said during the hearing for the bill. “Body camera programs are certainly very, very good public policy, they’re good for police agencies and good for Marylanders.”
Moon’s bill did not progress past its hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City) sponsored a bill that would require police officers to forfeit their pensions if they are found guilty, plead guilty or plead no contest to committing a crime while on duty.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee heard Carter’s bill in January but did not move forward with it. The House heard the bill’s cross-file in March but also did not act on the measure.
Carter also sponsored a bill that would create a task force to study the fulfillment of Public Information Act Requests made to law enforcement officials.
The task force would have originally placed a limit on the fees police agencies can charge to those requesting public records, but the bill was amended during debate to create a task force that will study the implementation of the Police Accountability Act so far.
During the last legislative session, sweeping police reforms aimed to increase disclosure of previously confidential police records under the Maryland Public Information Act. But departments have struggled to follow the Police Accountability Act’s updated provisions.
In her testimony in favor of establishing the task force, Carter told her colleagues that media outlets, legal groups and civil rights organizations have not been able to access public records from police departments that were made available under the Police Accountability Act.
“Agencies are simply not complying,” Carter said during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on her task force bill on April 5. “Our committee, I think, made a really good decision that these issues should be put into a task force that looks at the cost and fees, that looks at the processes and procedures that agencies used to disclose records.”
Carter’s task force bill was passed by both chambers of the General Assembly but has not been signed into law by the governor.