Proposals seek new training agency and civilian participation in police disciplinary process
TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: This is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Annapolis. We’re outside the state General Services building, where a joint committee has just released their recommendations for police reform in Maryland, efforts that some say have gone too far. SEN. WAYNE NORMAN: There are a lot of municipal police departments. And I think we, we don’t want to dictate the day-to-day, in and outs of municipal and small department–. GRAHAM: It was a long-awaited report on police reform in Maryland. A list of recommendations to overhaul the laws governing law enforcement, which legislators had ignored last year just before the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Today a joint committee issued 21 recommendations, which at first glance appeared to be aimed at shedding light on the often secretive process of disciplining cops. SEN. CATHERINE PUGH: And to look at how do we increase opportunities for folks who engage with our police departments, and how do we increase the opportunities for our communities to learn more about our police department, and more importantly, to engage in a very positive way. GRAHAM: Including a proposal to allow members of the public to sit in on what’s known as trial boards, bodies that adjudicate violations of internal rules; a proposal that would also provide for public vetting of an officer’s disciplinary record, and a mechanism to identify officers who are repeat offenders. DEL. KURT ANDERSON: Recommendation number six: the law shall be changed to ensure that whistleblower protections are given to protect from retaliation officers who participate in investigations. GRAHAM: But the recommendations didn’t stop there. Legislators want to establish a new training commission, a panel that would come up with guidelines for use of force, and how and when an officer should be evaluated as fit for duty. ANDERSON: The independent MPTSC shall include representatives of state and local government, representatives of state and local law enforcement administrators, representatives of state and local law enforcement personnel, a representative of local state’s attorneys, legislative members, members with expertise in community policing, policing standards and mental health, and citizen members without relationships to law enforcement. GRAHAM: The proposals come in the wake of a tumultuous year after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, a death which ignited protests across the city, and calls to overhaul the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which affords police officers special protections. One of which the committee wants to cut in half: the so-called ten day period granted to police officers before they have to give a statement about a questionable incident. STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: Is there one thing that stands out to you as being, you know, something that you’re really going to fight [inaud.] legislative session? VINCE CANALES: I mean, again, these are recommendations that have come out. We’re not prepared to sit and say one way or the other that we’re fighting anything just yet. We want to see what the actual bills look like before we actually make a determination as to what we’re going to, you know, what we support and what we don’t support. GRAHAM: The slew of proposals were met with guarded optimism by reform advocates. The ACLU of Maryland says the measures are a good start, but were concerned they failed to address regulations that prevented anyone outside of law enforcement from investigating the police. SARAH LOVE: It sounds like a really good first step. We’re really happy to hear some of the recommendations. It sounds like the commission really delved into a lot of different areas. GRAHAM: Still, State Delegate Kurt Anderson, who chaired the work group, says he’s confident that the change in law and policing may finally go from protest to practice. ANDERSON: Number one, the reforms are sweeping. I mean, this has never happened in the state of Maryland. Policing and police discipline had been a very unknown process, it had been in secret for a long time. And if these pass I think that it’ll give the public some confidence in the fact that when a police officer does do wrong–and again, it’s not that many officers. But when an officer does do wrong, that the discipline will be swift, and the discipline will be public. GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis in Annapolis for the Real News Network.