The second day of virtual Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPR) hearings on draft police accountability and law enforcement reform legislation for the 2021 session focused on police body cameras, tort claims liabilities, and state prosecutor investigator authority among other issues.
JPR Chair Will Smith jumped right into the day’s work noting that the hearing on Wednesday’s six bill proposals would follow the same format as the day before. First, the sponsors would introduce the bills. Then, a series of experts would each provided two minutes of testimony and engage in Q&A with the committee. Finally, the committee would hear public testimony, also capped at two minutes, without Q&A from the committee.
Senators Sydnor and Smith sponsored and introduced the slate of bill proposals that were before the committee which can be summarized as follows from the meeting materials:
Police Body-Worn Camera Recordings (JPR 8 Senator Sydnor)
This draft bill requires a custodian of a public record to grant inspection under Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA) of a police body-worn camera recording, data, or related information, unless the inspection would (1) interfere with a valid and proper law enforcement proceeding; (2) deprive another person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication; (3) constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy; (4) disclose the identity of a confidential source; (5) disclose a unique investigative technique or procedure; (6) prejudice an investigation; (7) endanger the life or physical safety of an individual; (8) expose information that would reasonably be expected to cause harassment or embarrassment to a victim depicted in the recording; or (9) otherwise be prohibited under PIA.
Presumptions of Inadmissibility (JPR 9 Senator Sydnor)
This draft bill establishes that the knowing and willful failure of a police officer to activate a body-worn camera, in violation of the policy of the officer’s employing law enforcement agency, creates a rebuttable presumption that any testimony of the police officer relating to the incident that was not recorded is inadmissible in a criminal prosecution.
Investigation of Crimes Committed by Police Officers (JPR 10 Senator Smith)
This draft bill authorizes the State Prosecutor to investigate:
• a criminal offense involving serious physical injury or death resulting from the use of physical force by a police officer; and
• any criminal offense committed by a police officer while in performance of the police officer’s official duties if requested by (1) a State’s Attorney with jurisdiction to prosecute the offense or (2) the Attorney General.
The draft bill requires a law enforcement agency to notify the Office of the State Prosecutor (OSP) of any alleged or potential incident involving the use of physical force causing serious physical injury or death by a police officer as soon as the law enforcement agency becomes aware of the incident. In addition, a State’s Attorney must immediately notify OSP of the existence of any video evidence known to the State’s Attorney relating to a criminal investigation of a police officer by the State Prosecutor.
Tort Claims Act – Limits on Liability – Law Enforcement Officers (JPR 11 Senator Smith)
Under the draft bill, these monetary limits do not apply to economic damages if the liability of a local government arises from tortious acts or omissions committed by a law enforcement officer. Also, the liability limit on noneconomic damages for such claims must increase by
$15,000 for individual claims and by $30,000 for total claims that arise from the same occurrence on October 1 of each year beginning on October 1, 2021. The annual limits on noneconomic damages established under the draft bill apply to causes of action arising between October 1 of that year and September 30 of the following year, inclusive.
Law Enforcement Officers – Required Drug and Alcohol Testing (JPR 12 Senator Smith)
This draft bill requires a law enforcement agency to direct, as soon as is practicable, a law enforcement officer employed by the agency to submit to drug and alcohol testing if the officer, in the course of the officer’s official duties, (1) engages in conduct that results in the death of or serious bodily injury to another or (2) discharges a firearm. However, unless the firearm discharge results in death or serious bodily injury, the requirement does not apply to the discharge of a firearm by a law enforcement officer (1) as part of a training exercise or demonstration or (2) if the ammunition discharged is not designed to cause death or serious bodily injury.
A law enforcement officer who engages in such conduct must submit to drug and alcohol testing as directed. Otherwise, if the law enforcement officer refuses to do so, the law enforcement agency may commence an action that may lead to a punitive measure.
Certification Renewal and Recertification – Psychological Evaluations (JPR 13 Senator Smith)
This draft bill prohibits the commission from renewing the certification of a police officer or issuing a recertification for a police officer unless that officer has submitted to a psychological evaluation. Accordingly, to retain commission certification, every police officer in Maryland must periodically undergo psychological evaluation – generally at least every three years.
The hearing was streamed live and a recording can be viewed on YouTube.
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