On April 10, Maryland became the first state in the nation to repeal its Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR). The Democratic-controlled legislature overrode Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s veto to pass this element of a widespread police reform package. During the session, some Black lawmakers read the names of those killed by police officers in Maryland.
When officers were accused of misconduct, they were protected by the LEOBR. Just as Maryland is the first state to repeal its LEOBR, it was also the first state to pass such a law, back in 1974. The rights inherent in the LEOBR included:
- Discipline limits on infractions
- Disciplinary record expungements
- Strict time limits on police brutality and other allegations
- Misconduct investigations conducted only by other law enforcement officers
- Delays before officer misconduct questioning
Police reform advocates call the new laws an important step toward a more progressive criminal justice system in Maryland.
Strict Police Use of Force Standards
The legislation includes the country’s strictest police use of force standards. Police officers found to have used excessive force can face criminal penalties. If they cause serious injury or death, they may face up to 10 years in prison.
Officers are now required to prioritize de-escalation tactics. Only “necessary and proportional” use of force is permitted. The prior standard for use of force was “reasonable,” which was open to wide interpretation.
Under the new use of force standard, only the imminent threat of physical injury or the effectuation of a legitimate law enforcement objective justifies the use of force.
No knock warrants are now restricted. Police body cameras are mandatory. Police officers can no longer keep civilians from recording their actions. Life sentences without possibility of parole are now banned for juveniles. Twenty years post-conviction, such individuals will now have the ability to appeal to a judge.
Statewide, law enforcement agencies must identify those officers considered likely to use excessive force. Once identified in this new system, these officers must undergo retraining or counseling. In some situations, they may face reassignment.
New Civilian Role
Civilians will play a new role in the charging committees that review law enforcement agency findings and recommend appropriate punishments. The Chief of Police in a particular jurisdiction cannot issue lesser disciplinary actions than those determined by the committee.
In a letter, the Governor explained his veto by stating the police reform bills will “result in great damage to police recruitment and retention, posing significant risks to public safety throughout our state.”
Unsurprisingly, police unions called the reform package “too drastic.” Angelo Consoli, second vice president and legislative committee chairman of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, says the new legislation will make it tougher for police to police. “This went beyond reform,” according to Consoli.
Other Police Accountability Bills
In addition to the LEOBR repeal, other police accountability bills were also passed. One returns the Baltimore Police Department to local control for the first time in 161 years. Another changes the investigation of any fatalities involving police from local authorities to the Maryland Attorney General’s office. This bill, which takes effect in October, also prevents police from acquiring surplus military equipment.