Maryland Chooses Police Reform in Midst of National Reckoning

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May 4, 2021

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In the same week Minnesota police shot and killed 20-year-old Black man Daunte Wright at a traffic stop, Maryland lawmakers took action to set new standards of policing across the state.

Legislators on April 10th passed the Maryland Police Accountability Act, a progressive police reform law aimed at reducing deadly force at the hands of law enforcement. The package coincided with the death of Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, when a police officer allegedly mistook her gun for a taser, igniting new protests and calls for police reform across the country.

Maryland’s new laws were adopted after legislators overrode vetoes from the governor, who regarded some of the new statutes as “dangerous.”

“Unfortunately, the original intent of these bills appears to have been overtaken by political agendas that do not serve public safety interests of the citizens of Maryland,” wrote Governor Larry Hogan in his veto letter. “Our police and our citizens deserve far better.”

The five-part package includes stricter mandates on existing measures and the implementation of new ones. One law, dubbed by lawmakers as Anton’s Law coined after the 2018 police killing of 19-year-old Anton Black in Greensboro, Maryland, requires public transparency with police misconduct records. The law also instructs no-knock search warrants be executed between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. that also require approval by the State’s Attorney. Another mandate calls for the state-wide use of police body cameras by 2025 and access to mental health treatment for officers. 

The most controversial law, HB670 which was first introduced in the House chamber, repeals the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a move widely condemned by members of law enforcement. But the law also pushes for the appointment of civilians on charging committees and trial boards.

“In my opinion and [for] me personally, it takes away our rights to be proven guilty,” Victoria Davis, a retired Maryland Transportation Authority Police captain and 27-year police veteran, told The Click. 

Maryland’s 1974 Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, the oldest in the nation, outlines special protections for police officers under investigation for misconduct.  

Davis, a member of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, said the organization is a strong opponent of the Bill of Rights repeal.

“Certainly, we would all agree to some type of changes in it, some updates maybe,” she said. “But not just to say we’re going to do away with everything and the Bill of Rights.”

Victoria Davis, 57, is a retired Maryland Transportation Authority Police officer of 27 years. [Photo credit: Victoria Davis]

Maryland is not the only state amending its policing laws. After the death of George Floyd and the uproar that sparked an international movement, many states around the country are enacting police reform and oversight. New laws limiting police immunity, neck restraints, and no-knock warrants have been passed in 19 states, according to a report from The New York Times

Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March, legislation intended to strengthen law enforcement transparency and accountability.

For Davis, a Black woman, police reform is necessary, but not at the expense of officers’ due process. 

“I’m a Black female, I have Black brothers. So I really, really get it on both sides,” she said. “But I just don’t think that you should just automatically punish someone because that’s really not how the United States is set up.”

Anton’s Law is the first of the Maryland Police Accountability Act to go into effect on October 1.

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