Maryland House Passes Extensive Police Reform Measure

The bill includes body camera requirements, limitations on use of no-knock warrants and a chokehold ban

Maryland State Police cruiser

The Maryland House of Delegates approved an extensive police reform measure on Thursday that includes repeal of job protections long criticized for impeding accountability in misconduct cases.

The bill, which passed on a 96-40 vote, would require body cameras by 2025. It also would put limitations on no-knock warrants and create a statewide use-of-force standard that bans chokeholds and creates a duty to intervene.

Maryland's legislature is taking a serious look at statewide police reform following this past summer's calls for social justice. Prince George's County Bureau Chief Tracee Wilkins reports.

The Senate already has approved a package of nine bills with many provisions similar to those in the 66-page omnibus House measure. The two chambers will need to reconcile differences to send the legislation to Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican.

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, a Howard County Democrat who chaired a workgroup on police reforms that helped shape the legislation, described the measure as "a huge leap forward in terms of police reform for the state of Maryland.”

“This legislation isn't anti-police," Atterbeary said. "In fact, the police were involved in every aspect of negotiations along with the advocates in this legislation. This legislation is about moving towards a Maryland where all citizens, all citizens, receive the same treatment by the police.”

Opponents contended the measure goes too far and will erode law enforcement in the state.

Del. Haven Shoemaker, a Carroll County Republican, said officers have told him the bill “will make their lives difficult, if not impossible" and cause police to quit throughout the state.

“So, ultimately we won't have to worry about either defunding or defanging the police, because we won't have any officers to defund or defang,” Shoemaker said.

A major point of contention in the bill is a provision that would limit no-knock warrants on residential property between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., except in an emergency.

Supporters of the timeframe limit cited the fatal police shooting last year of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. Taylor was fatally shot by police who burst through her door with a narcotics warrant. She and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker had settled in for the night when police arrived and knocked down the door. Walker said he thought an intruder was breaking in, and he fired a single shot that struck an officer in the leg.

Atterbeary cited the case as an example of how dangerous no-knock warrants can be.

“That is how innocent people get shot," Atterbeary said during debate.

Legislators in Annapolis are considering a number of police reform bills. The General Assembly crafted legislation that helped shape police protections across the nation, and now some lawmakers are hoping the reform measures will have the same impact. Prince George's County Bureau Chief Tracee Wilkins' reports.

Opponents said it opened a wide window for criminals to conceal illegal activity.

“So, at 8 o'clock, the drug dealer gets all the drugs out, puts them all over the dining room table and knows there won't be a search warrant. This is bad public policy," said Del. Kathy Szeliga, the House minority whip.

While the legislation increases civilian input on police discipline, activists say citizens need even greater control over police discipline in their communities than the measures would provide. They say the measure creates a long process of multiple panels to preside over discipline, when what is needed is a community-controlled entity with the power to fire officers for misconduct.

“Generally, I think that HB670 is an honest attempt at trying to deal with police misconduct and police brutality in Maryland, but it significantly falls short of what I would characterize as an advance for racial justice," said Dayvon Love, the public policy director for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a grassroots political think tank in Baltimore.

Police reform has been a top priority this year for the General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats. The measure sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne Jones was set in motion by a workgroup she named in May after nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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