Since the global marches and demonstrations against police brutality in 2020, there have been many conversations in the Maryland General Assembly about legislations to address policy brutality and accountability. For the past five years, LBS and many other organizations have been consistent voices in Annapolis concerning these issues.
Civilian oversight is an essential component of holding police accountable. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and law enforcement agencies have consistently lobbied against civilian oversight at the state level.
Below are two specific policy changes that we believe will help address the issue of police brutality in Maryland. You can also read the open letter to Senator Will Smith – who is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA)
Currently, the records of internal affairs investigations of police officers are prohibited from being accessible to the public. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the internal affairs investigations of a police officers are personnel records and are not eligible to be disclosed to the public. We believe that the investigatory records related to police misconduct are essential for being able to provide the community with the information that is necessary to effectively hold police accountable.
We advocate that the records of internal affairs investigations of police officers are subject to the category of the PIA that makes these records discretionary disclosures, which if withheld upon request, require a stated justification for why keeping the requested information sealed are in the public interest. In other words, we want to have access to all of the investigatory records on police officers so that we can more effectively root out corruption.
What is the current dilemma?
The push back that we have gotten is that the opposition wants to only provide the investigatory records of investigations that resulted in what is the loose equivalent of a guilty finding, which are called the “sustained” investigations. We don’t just want the records from internal affairs documents that they deem worthy of discipline, we want the information we need to evaluate the investigations that were not sustained.
Here is an example from the August 2016 DOJ report of a complaint that was “not sustained” and that under the bill that the moderates within the legislature want to pass would be prohibited from being disclosed to the public:
Other complaints describe similar incidents in which BPD officers conduct public strip searches of individuals who have not been arrested. For example, in September 2014, a man filed a complaint stating that an officer in the Central District searched him several days in a row, including “undoing his pants” and searching his “hindquarters” on a public street. When the strip search did not find contraband, the officer told the man to leave the area and warned that the officer would search him again every time he returned. The man then filed a complaint with Internal Affairs and identified the officer who conducted the strip search by name. When Internal Affairs investigators pressed the man to provide a detailed description of the officer, the man recalled that the officer “had red patches with sergeant stripes” on his uniform. The investigator recognized this description as patches worn by the officer in charge of a shift and confirmed that the officer named by the man was working as an officer in charge in the Central District on the dates the man alleged he was strip- searched. Internal Affairs nonetheless deemed the complaint “not sustained” without further explanation.
Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR)
There are a series of protections that exist for law enforcement that impede the ability for the community to have a role in investigation of police misconduct and discipline. Only sworn law enforcement can participate in dispensing discipline and conduct investigations of misconduct.
We advocate for a full repeal of the LEOBR. The laws that protect other public sector employees should be sufficient for police officers.
What is the dilemma?
Legislators will be pressured by police and the FOP to leave the LEOBR in tact with slight modifications in the name of worker’s rights. We are clear that the protections that protect other public sector employees should be sufficient for police officers.
Contact Senator Will Smith and tell him to support these changes.
Phone: (410) 841-3634
The 2021 Maryland General Assembly starts in January 2021. If you would like to support this effort – email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.