Top Issues of 2021 Session: Police Accountability Reforms

With the 2021 Legislative Session rapidly approaching, MACo is profiling some major issues that stand to gather attention in the General Assembly’s work. Here, we preview accountability reforms for law enforcement agencies in Maryland.

National attention has focused on police accountability – with wide-ranging stakeholders calling for changes to the laws governing discipline and accountability for officers accused of dangerous or criminal conduct in the line of duty. Maryland’s legislative leaders have taken up these weighty topics, and have signaled an intent to advance potentially wide-ranging legislation early in the 2021 session.

The topic is first in the entire section of public safety measure profiled by the Department of Legislative Services in its annual compilation of Issue Papers:

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May 2020 led to protests nationwide as well as a push for police reform on the national, state, and local levels. In Maryland, during the 2020 interim, a variety of legislative bodies explored areas for police reform and discussed potential legislation. In addition, advocates continued to call for improvements in police oversight, methods and procedures, consequences for misconduct, and transparency.

The House of Delegates work group convened to review and offer suggestions made numerous recommendations for both legislative and policy actions at its final meeting in October – see Conduit Street coverage for more background. As of this writing, no resulting legislation has been introduced, but the General Assembly website allows searching by subject matter, including Law Enforcement.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held semi-formal “hearings” on initial drafts of a variety of legislative proposals, and invited stakeholders to comment on some of all of the wide swath of topics raised within them.

Alongside the many matters or training and conduct raised amidst the calla for police reform lies an accompanying matter of financial remuneration for those injured or killed by law enforcement officers. Maryland’s laws provide various protections for the officers, but taxpayers bear the brunt of resulting judgments and settlements – potentially infringing on resources needed to provide public services. This topic (with meaningful effects on the local governments who fund most law enforcement agencies in Maryland) will be one component of the 2021 debate, but likely not the highest profile policy discussion.

More background on police reforms, the backstories that motivate action, and the topic being discussed may be found in previous Conduit Street coverage, and in the DLS Issue Paper:

House Workgroup Approves Police Reform Recommendations for 2021 Legislative Session

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

DLS Issue Papers: Police Reform

Helpful 2021 Session Links:

Maryland General Assembly website | 2021 Dates of Interest | Issue Papers
Re-opening procedures: Senate | House of Delegates | House Committees
Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts on MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database
MACo’s 2021 Priorities  |  MACo’s 2020 Wrap-Up

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties