Senate JPR Held First of Three Hearings on Draft Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 Legislative Proposals

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held the first of three hearings Tuesday on draft Police Accountability and Law Enforcement Reform legislation for the 2021 session. 

The package of reform proposals falls under the umbrella of the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021. In his opening statement, Chair Will Smith clarified that the hearings being held this week were just the beginning of the committee’s work on police reform and not final products. His goal is for the committee to be best positioned on these issues come session in January, especially considering no one knows what session will exactly look like yet given the ongoing pandemic. The committee is to use the testimony provided this week and additional reach outs to stakeholders and community members over the next three months to refine the draft pieces of legislation ahead of formal bill introductions when session starts in January.

Smith’s comments sought to temper concerns surrounding the interim hearing process and limited ability for interested stakeholders to review and weigh in on the proposed legislation within the confines of the time period of their release. After the Chair’s remarks, the floor was open to the committee. Many of whom provided their own passionate statements in support of addressing police accountability and improving policing standards, operations, and practices in Maryland. Concerns voiced by members of the minority party on the committee included the nontraditional process, lack of minority party voices at the table, and whether the proposed scope of reform was necessary. Smith echoed his earlier remarks that these bills were drafts to be worked grouped with bipartisan input between now and session.

After opening remarks the sponsors of the day’s bills, Senator Jill Carter, Senator Charles Sydnor, and Senator Smith introduced their proposals which can be summarized as follows from the meeting materials:

Use of Force Standards (JPR 1 – Senator Carter)

This draft bill specifies factors for a court to consider in an action in which the plaintiff alleges the improper use of physical or deadly force by a law enforcement officer…The draft bill also establishes a rebuttable presumption that a law enforcement officer’s use of physical force or deadly force was not reasonable if, before using such force, the officer failed to take every action that an objectively reasonable officer could have taken to limit the likelihood that physical or deadly force would be required…Finally, the draft bill prohibits a law enforcement officer, while engaged in the performance of the officer’s official duties or while purporting to be so engaged, from intentionally causing physical injury to another using force that exceeds the amount of force appropriate under the totality of the circumstances.

Misconduct Database (JPR 2 – Senator Sydnor)

This draft bill requires the compilation of, and specified availability of, records (detailed below) relating to (1) the credibility of law enforcement officers as witnesses and (2) formal complaints filed against officers. The records must be compiled by (1) the State’s Attorney for each county (records relating to credibility of officers as witnesses) and (2) the chief of each law enforcement agency (records relating to formal complaints filed against officers). The information must be transmitted to the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission (MPTSC) to maintain in a database established and maintained by the commission, and the commission must adopt regulations establishing procedures for the transmission of the information.

The records compiled by State’s Attorneys and maintained in the database are subject to public inspection in accordance with the Maryland Public Information Act.

Limitation/Elimination of No-knock Warrants (JPR 3 – Senator Carter)

This draft bill establishes that a law enforcement officer who is executing a search warrant may not, for the purpose of executing the warrant, enter the building, apartment, premises, place, or thing specified in the warrant to be searched without giving notice of the officer’s authority or

The draft bill makes several conforming changes pertaining to the warrant application and authorization process and training standards

Duty to Intervene (JPR 4 – Senator Carter)

This draft bill establishes a duty for a police officer to intervene. Specifically, it requires a police officer to make a reasonable attempt to stop or prevent the use of “excessive force” – defined in the draft bill as force that, under the totality of the circumstances, is objectively unreasonable – if the police officer knows or reasonably should know that another police officer is using or intends to use excessive force.

Duty to Report Misconduct by Fellow Officers (JPR 5 – Senator Sydnor)

This draft bill requires a police officer to report misconduct if the police officer has actual
knowledge that another police officer has engaged in any of the following types of misconduct in
violation of the Criminal Law Article, as specified:
• homicide;
• a sexual crime;
• theft or a related crime;
• perjury;
• fraud or a related crime;
• tampering with physical evidence; or
• fabricating physical evidence.
This duty to report misconduct extends to actual knowledge that another police officer has engaged
in “excessive force” – defined in the draft bill as force that, under the totality of the circumstances,
is objectively unreasonable.

Law Enforcement Agencies – Surplus Military Equipment (JPR 6 – Senator Smith)

This draft bill prohibits a law enforcement agency from receiving the following equipment from a surplus program operated by the federal government: (1) an armored or weaponized aircraft, drone, or vehicle; (2) a “destructive device”; (3) a “firearm silencer”; or (4) a grenade launcher.

Law Enforcement – Whistleblower Protections (JPR 7 – Senator Carter)

This draft bill prohibits a supervisor, an appointing authority, or the head of a law enforcement agency from threatening or taking a “retaliatory action” against a law enforcement officer who discloses specified information or, following such a disclosure, seeks a remedy under the draft bill’s provisions or any other law or policy governing the law enforcement agency. The draft bill’s protections apply to a disclosure of information that a law enforcement officer reasonably believes demonstrates (1) an abuse of authority, gross mismanagement, or gross waste of money; (2) a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety; or (3) a violation of law. A disclosure by a law enforcement officer that is otherwise prohibited by law or is confidential by law is protected only if the disclosure is made exclusively to the Attorney General, in writing, and contains specified information.

Following the bill introductions, a series of experts each provided two minutes of testimony on the bills and engaged in Q&A with the committee. The day ended with testimony from the public, also capped at two minutes, without Q&A from the committee.

The hearing was streamed live and a recording can be viewed on YouTube.

For more information:

Bill Hearing Agenda and Materials for September 22, 2020