The segments below provide a brief overview of MACo’s work in the area of pubic safety and corrections in the 2023 General Assembly.
Counties are the primary provider of public safety services in the state. Each county is required to have an elected sheriff and some also have a county police force. Additionally, each county operates a local jail that holds inmates awaiting trial and those sentenced to 18 months or less.
In addition to the swearing-in of a new governor, the 445th legislative session kicked off with more relaxed health and safety measures compared to the turbulence of the last few years. This enabled MACo’s policy team to dynamically engage with private-sector stakeholders, legislators, and representatives from all divisions of government. Under these more conventional circumstances, MACo’s advocacy led to a plethora of favorable outcomes for its members.
MACo supported HB 332/SB 330 – Public Safety – Law Enforcement – Body-Worn Cameras. This bill would enable counties with the option to access necessary provisions for implementing a body-worn camera program via contracts negotiated by the Department of General Services, in coordination with the Department of Information Technology, on behalf of state and local law enforcement agencies. Giving counties the ability to take part in contracts that are negotiated at the state level avoids a mass duplication of effort or the potential for individual counties to incur the kind of premiums that often accompany single-user contracts. Counties who have taken the initiative to get their body-worn camera programs up and running would reserve the flexibility to carry on with their own provisions, or to evaluate the central offerings as warranted. This bill passed.
Law Enforcement Summoning
MACo supported SB 450/HB 215 – Real Property – Limitations on Summoning Law Enforcement or Emergency Services. This legislation understandably seeks to protect individuals experiencing domestic abuse, sexual assault, and many other serious life-threatening offenses, by shielding them from potential repercussions by property owners arising from these police calls. In working with the bill sponsor, MACo was able to ensure the protection of victims and county resources. Through carefully constructed amendments, the scope of SB 450/HB 215 does not extend to certain situations in which individuals repeatedly request assistance with parking or when neighbors retaliate against one another by summoning law enforcement. This bill passed.
MACo supported SB 285 – County Police Accountability Board – Investigation of Complaints of Police Misconduct. This bill would authorize county governments to enable its own police accountability board to investigate allegations of police misconduct. Since the bill creates this ability only as an option for local governments rather than a mandate, it does not require any action from counties that feel their existing process is sufficient to uphold the intent of the original law. Similar to other police accountability legislation there was a prevailing sentiment that the process as established in 2021 needs to reach full implementation before making continued adjustments, therefore the bill eventually failed.
MACo supported HB 518/SB 409 – Police Accountability Boards and Administrative Charging Committees – Municipal Corporations. This bill would authorize municipal governments to establish their own police accountability boards (PAB) and administrative charging committees (ACC) to provide civilian oversight for investigations of police misconduct. Allowing municipalities the autonomy to establish these entities will streamline implementation and fulfill the overall intent of community participation. While the bills provisions provide more efficiency in the police accountability process, the legislation failed.
MACo opposed HB 385/SB 459 – Correctional Services – Restrictive Housing – Limitations. This legislation creates rigid, and likely unrealistic, limitations on the use of restrictive housing. In a large-scale state-run facility, there may be multiple options to consider in managing difficult inmate cases, however, in county detention centers and jails, such options may simply be unavailable due to physical space. While seeking to create a standard of care and a duty to provide alternatives to restrictive housing, HB 385/SB 459 does not take into account the realities these facilities face. Bill sponsors agreed that local facilities were not a practical setting for these provisions and agreed to remove them from the scope of the language. Despite the amendments the bill failed and was referred for an interim study.
MACo opposed HB 430 – Public Safety – Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission – Notification of Action Filed Against a Police Officer. As originally drafted, HB 430 reframed legal liability around law enforcement officers, applying open-ended new standards for filings against local governments. Counties are allies and functioning partners in ensuring officer accountability and broad implementation of sweeping police accountability reforms that surely set a national standard. MACo’s concerns with HB 430 were centered on the mechanics of the bill, including the potential for a dramatic increase in liability exposure and the depletion of the hiring pool when even officers acting in good-faith, in accordance with law, and with no wrongdoing found are subject to a substantial financial penalty. This bill, despite being substantially amended, failed after crossing over to the Senate chamber.
Public Safety Measures
MACo opposed HB 849 – School Bus Stops – Violations – Enforcement and Safety Measures. This bill would require county law enforcement agencies to issue a warning instead of a citation for a certain school bus stop violation on state highways, despite the inherently dangerous nature of this particular infraction. Waiting for a second violation before applying a penalty leaves the possibility open for hundreds of thousands of drivers to make the mistake again, which simply serves to multiply the danger that students experience in these environments. Limiting the number of violations is an important goal but should not be achieved by increasing the danger to students. While HB 849 staled in committee and did not receive a vote, there was a Sine Die day effort to attach the provisions of HB 849 to a well crafted bill dealing with the use of facial recognition technology in criminal investigations. That bill ultimately failed along with the amendment from HB 849.
Task Forces and Grants
MACo supported HB 1044 – Criminal Procedure – Crime Solver Reward Fund – Establishment. This bill would make funds available for local law enforcement agencies to provide rewards for information relevant to a criminal investigation. When law enforcement and county governments show a consistent record of solving crimes, public trust and peace of mind are indisputably reinforced. While broader and more universal tools to engage neighborhood input in crime solving promotes the best outcomes for all communities, this bill failed.
MACo supported SB 580/HB 751 – Public Safety – Officer and Community Wellness Training Grant Fund. This bill supports training for local law enforcement agencies to best respond to, and support, their residents’ mental health needs as well as those amongst colleagues and co-workers. Law enforcement readily put themselves in circumstances where the mental health needs of an individual might not be obvious or visible to the untrained eye. SB 580 wisely targets this as a primary concern, and provides important resources to promote best outcomes in such difficult encounters. This legislation passed.
MACo supported with amendments SB 18/HB 308 – Police Recruitment and Retention Workgroup. This bill would establish a workgroup to study the issues and factors contributing to the decline in police officer retention statewide. MACo’s amendment is merely to strengthen the body’s membership by including in the workgroup a representative of a police department in a large county jurisdiction and a representative of a sheriff’s department in a jurisdiction where the sheriff’s department serves as the primary law enforcement agency. This bill and similar legislation failed with the intention to reconsider next session.
MACo supported with amendments SB 499/HB 661 – Workgroup to Study Reentry. This legislation would study the reentry process for individuals following a completed term of incarceration in either a state or local correctional facility. Counties commend the establishment of this workgroup but believe the recommendations and outcomes would benefit from the inclusion of local correctional representatives having a voice in the process. A corresponding amendment was offered but the bill ultimately failed with the intention of reconsideration next term.
MACo supported with amendments HB 1045 – Public Safety – Safe Neighborhoods Pilot Program. This bill would establish the Safe Neighborhoods Pilot Program and require annual funding from the State budget to implement the program through September of 2026. Fortunately, counties have begun establishing their own programs that offer doorbell cameras and security systems to individuals who participate. As this process is well underway, and the local law enforcement agencies have jurisdiction over crimes in their communities and subsequent investigations, MACo’s amendment would allow local jurisdictions to apply for and receive funds directly for both existing and new programs. This bill failed.