Senate Democratic leaders Friday urged passage of a package of nine bills that are aimed at increasing accountability over the state’s law enforcement personnel.
The bills are set to be presented on the Senate floor when the upper chamber gavels in for legislative business at noon today. They are the product of more than six months of extensive work by members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
The bills would: limit the use of no-knock warrants, expand mental health services for officers, establish local control over the Baltimore City Police Department, decrease police militarization, provide greater transparency over officer personnel records, repeal the Law Enforcement Officers of Bill Rights (LEOBR), require the use of body cameras, establish new guidelines for the use of force, and require independent investigations for police involved deaths.
“Right now there is consensus that recent examples of racial disparities in policing, disproportionate rates of use of force, and excessive police brutality-have proven that change is necessary,” Senate President Bill Ferguson said at a virtual news conference.
Ferguson added: “There is consensus that the current system of policing makes all of us less safe. And there is consensus that marginal change around the edges will not be sufficient to truly restore trust, accountability and transparency in law enforcement.”
Ferguson emphasized that the legislation is not anti-law enforcement.
“The goal here is not to punish individual officers. This is about establishing true accountability, transparency and trust in the system of policing.”
Sen. Will Smith (Montgomery), who is the chair of Judicial Proceedings, said the legislation speaks to what Maryland represents as a state.
“We cannot claim to be a state that serves, welcomes and sees the humanity of all people regardless of their race, ethnicity, ability or zip code if our system of policing and criminal justice do not pass muster.”
Sen. Jill Carter (Baltimore City), who sponsored several of the bills and has for decades been a stalwart champion of police reform-said there is urgent need to pass the legislation.
“It is only now that we have the political will to address these injustices. We cannot wait another year to pass this legislation.”
Carter noted that in Maryland over the past 20 years more than 500 people have been killed by law enforcement including more than 145 people over the past six years. Carter further relayed that African-Americans account for 60% of deaths at the hands of police in Maryland and that that group only accounts for about 29% of the state’s total population.
Sen. Charles Sydnor (Baltimore County) said the legislation is just the first step to addressing systemic inequities in law enforcement.
“While we can’t fix longstanding problems of inequitable policing overnight, I do believe that the package of bills that we are putting forth puts us on the right path.”
Sydnor said he believes the legislation will help to ensure “trust” and greater accountability in law enforcement.
This article originally appeared on MarylandReporter.com on February 26, 2021.