The two bills heard on the final day of virtual Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPR) hearings on draft police accountability and law enforcement reform legislation for the 2021 session solely centered on the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR).
The LEOBR is arguably one of the most controversial statutes in Maryland law. It establishes the procedures and framework for police discipline. Generally, proponents of the statute believe it provides a uniform system of due process procedures for officers under civil investigation and is necessary because of the unique and dangerous nature of law enforcement. Opponents believe it provides special protections to police officers and prevents proper discipline and accountability of bad cops to the detriment of community members they are supposed to protect. Maryland is one of 15 states with a LEOBR statute and was the first to enact one.
Senator Jill Carter sponsored and introduced the bill proposals that would either repeal or significantly revise the LEOBR. The first proposed bill, JPR 14, made extensive changes to the LEOBR and rebranded the revised statute as the Law Enforcement Accountability and Discipline Act (LEAD) of 2021. The second proposed bill, JPR 15, simply repealed the LEOBR in its entirety.
In her opening remarks on the proposed bills, Senator Carter shared her history of working on police reform legislation and urged her colleagues on the committee to have an open mind on the proposals. She noted that debate and potential action on the LEOBR is not pro- or anti- law enforcement, but rather about addressing issues raised by people who have been victimized by the police and addressing concerns about lack of justice, transparency, and accountability.
As in previous hearings, following the sponsor presentation, a series of experts each provided two minutes of testimony and engaged in Q&A with the committee. Finally, the committee heard public testimony, also capped at two minutes, without Q&A from the committee.
The proposed bills can be summarized as follows from the meeting materials:
Law Enforcement Accountability and Discipline Act of 2021 Overview (JPR 14 Senator Carter)
The draft Law Enforcement Accountability and Discipline Act of 2021 (LEAD Act) alters and expands (1) a number of requirements and procedures under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR); (2) the duties for the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission (MPTSC); and (3) provisions relating to the disclosure of certain law enforcement personnel records under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA).
LEOBR provides uniform administrative protections to law enforcement officers in two major components of the disciplinary process: (1) measures for internal investigations of complaints that may lead to a recommendation of disciplinary action against a police officer; and (2) procedures that must be followed once an investigation results in a recommendation that an officer be disciplined. The draft bill renames LEOBR as LEAD Act and makes modifications to the complaint process, the investigation and interrogation process, and the hearing board and discipline process. In addition, the draft bill creates administrative charging committees and police accountability boards and defines specified terms.
Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights – Repeal (JPR 15 Senator Carter)
This draft bill repeals the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR), which provides uniform administrative protections to law enforcement officers in two major components of the disciplinary process: (1) measures for internal investigations of complaints that may lead to a recommendation of disciplinary action against a police officer; and (2) procedures that must be followed once an investigation results in a recommendation that an officer be disciplined. The draft bill has prospective application and only affects investigations and disciplinary proceedings initiated on or after the draft bill’s October 1, 2021 effective date.
Before concluding the hearing, Chair Will Smith noted the importance of hearing from stakeholders for over 15 hours across three days on these topics and draft pieces of legislation. He gave specials thanks by naming the long list of Department of Legislative Services, Committee, and Leadership staff that helped put the hearings and draft bills together.
The hearing was streamed live and a recording can be viewed on YouTube.
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