General Assembly Workgroup Delves Into Police Issues

The General Assembly’s Workgroup on Public Safety held its first meeting Monday, June 8, in Annapolis.

Presentations included an overview from the Department of Legislative Services on law enforcement departments in the state and on legislation from the 2015 general assembly session relating to police issues. The panelists presented information on the demographics of police forces across the state noting that there were racial disparities across the board between the makeup of the police forces and the communities they serve. Panelists also presented data on the crime rates by county highlighting those with highest and lowest rates. Members of the work group sought broader jurisdictional data and more detailed information on where officers reside, civil forfeiture assets, calls for service and misdemeanor crime rates.

The work group also heard a presentation from the Police Training Commission on the history of the commission, the organizational structure, and current training and accreditation policies. While the commission has a core training requirement there is some flexibility for local departments to enact their own standards and policies.  Members were particularly focused on racial, ethnic and diversity training as well as the trainings for use of force and weapons.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael. E. Busch formed the work group, co-chaired by Senator Catherine E. Pugh and Delegate Curt Anderson, to study issues including officer training, hiring practices, community relations and accountability.  The bipartisan group is made up of a 10 senators and 10 delegates from across the state. The work group is scheduled to meet periodically across the interim and will ultimately produce a report outlining recommendations that will likely lead policy and legislative activity during the 2016 legislative session. This approach allows the legislators to delve more deeply into the complex issues and revisit legislative proposals that were not worked out in the 2015 session. As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

Anderson said that during this year’s session, 15 to 20 bills on various aspects of policing were introduced by seven or eight lawmakers but never received full consideration.

“They were all kind of catch-as-catch can. There was no comprehensive movement on anything,” he said. “We couldn’t really do that in a 90-day session.”

Efforts to pass the bills were complicated by the fact that many of the lawmakers were freshmen getting their first exposure to the issues. It is not unusual for the Assembly to set up a task force or work group to study a complex issues in the interim before the next 90-day session.

The public safety work group is one of three panels established by the legislature this spring to delve deeper into criminal justice issues. One will focus specifically on creating a statewide policy for the use of police body cameras. Another will undertake a sweeping review of Maryland’s sentencing, parole and probation policies with an eye toward reducing both crime and incarceration levels.

While members say the public safety work group will focus heavily on Baltimore’s policing issues, they stress that they will attempt to craft policies for all parts of the state.

“This is a universal problem that needs universal attention,” said Del. Nathaniel Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat who will serve on the panel.

The next commission meeting will be held on June 23, 2015.

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