Republicans on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee opposed a series of Democratic-sponsored bills aimed at addressing police misconduct at a virtual hearing on Tuesday at a time when Baltimore City has seen a crime wave of shootings and homicides.
The partisan tension comes one day after members of the Senate Republican Caucus wrote Senate President Bill Ferguson asking that the scheduled three consecutive days of hearings be canceled. In their letter, Republicans claimed the fifteen bills under consideration are anti-police as well as inappropriate at a time of near-unprecedented violence in Baltimore City.
“Today and tomorrow and Thursday we have 15 bills-all of which to a greater or lesser extent are anti-police. And that is evidenced by the fact that the police and the prosecutors have filed opposition testimony to virtually all of these bills,” Sen. Chris West (R-Baltimore County) said in his opening statement.
West added: “I know I have some bills of my own in this area that I would like be considered. But I was not asked to get my bills prepared for consideration at this time. Only three members of this committee were asked to present bills. They are all members of the majority party. And, as I indicated, the bills are all to a greater or lesser extend anti-police.”
West decried Democrats’ decision to hold hearings on the bills outside of the 90-day legislative session.
“I went through the testimony. The testimony is really thin. I think a grand total of ten people have submitted testimony on these pieces of legislation. If these bills had been introduced during the regular session, we would have had piles of written testimony from various people…the fact that only ten people have submitted testimony suggests that because these bill hearings are being held in September when no one expects bill hearings to be held-virtually nobody knows about these hearings.”
Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll) said the committee would have been better served by having hearings on violent crime in Baltimore.
“It’s my view, I think its the view of the Republican members of JPR-that a far greater issue as it relates to police and community relations and racial justice-is the violence that’s taking place in Baltimore. The murders and the violent crime that’s being committed-not just in the city, but in the Baltimore region. And, so, if we were going to have emergency hearings, I think that would be a place that we would want to start as part of the conversation.”
Ready said that oftentimes activists’ attitudes toward police misconduct are harsher than their attitudes toward criminal misconduct.
“No one that I know is against improving police processes, improving policing. No one is against helping communities and police interact better and in a more effective way together. And nobody is against making sure that wrongdoing that has been proven is addressed firmly, fairly, with justice-at least when that wrongdoing is done by police.”
He added: “We have sometimes seen that there are excuses made for wrongdoing when it comes out of the community. And there’s a desire to say: ‘That doesn’t really count because of systemic issues.’ And I’ve seen that time and again.”
At the beginning of Tuesday’s hearing, Chairman Will Smith (D-Montgomery) dismissed claims that the legislation under consideration would undermine law enforcement personnel.
“It’s important to understand that this is not an affront to law enforcement officers…this is about implementing systemic change-long overdue reforms that will help restore trust between law enforcement and the communities that they serve.”
Smith said the hearings mark the beginning of a broader conversation about police reform.
“The ideas before you are just a starting point. Today is just the beginning. Ideas will be added. Some will be replaced. Some will be removed.”
Smith said the reason for this week’s hearings is to help the committee get a jump start on the legislation ahead of the upcoming session which begins in January.