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Maryland Enacts Significant Police Reform, Overriding Governor’s Veto

The first state in the nation to institute a police bill of rights now also holds the distinction of being the first to repeal it. Passed into law in 1974, the legislation afforded Maryland cops the right to appeal disciplinary measures to a local board despite a city’s ruling. The bill striking down that law was passed in April 2021 and allows for more accountability and transparency by giving civilians a role in both charging committees and a board that will review misconduct complaints.

Other significant changes include doing away with the “reasonableness” standard for use of force in favor of a stricter range requiring force to be “necessary and proportional.” Certain no-knock warrants are to be executed only between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. and will require approval by the State Attorney except in “exigent circumstances.”

The changes are intended to prevent police killings in circumstances such as those of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others in recent years. Failing that, the reforms also provide for prison sentences of ten years for cops who exceed the new use of force policy.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the bills when they initially passed in the state’s Democrat-majority legislatures, stating that they would “undermine the goal that I believe we share of building transparent, accountable, and effective law enforcement institutions and instead further erode police morale, community relationships, and public confidence.”

Maryland’s legislature overrode Gov. Hogan’s vetoes the next day, passing the most significant police reform package the U.S. has seen since nationwide protests erupted after Floyd’s murder in May 2020. Prior to the historic vote, State Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary tweeted that the governor’s actions showed he did not have the interests of communities of color in mind: “He is telling Black Marylanders that systemic racism in policing doesn’t exist here. SHAME ON HIM.”

During the legislative session, some Black delegates read out loud the names of victims of police violence in Maryland. The ensuing vote to enact the reforms over Gov. Hogan’s objections drew criticism from law enforcement organizations.

“The reality is they have reinvented policing in the state of Maryland,” said Angelo Consoli, a spokesman for the state’s Fraternal Order of Police. “There’s reform, and this went beyond reform.”

The new laws did feature some policies supported by law enforcement, including the right to have second jobs and partake in political activity off-duty. They also established financial assistance for cops going to college, added protections for whistleblowers, waived prior marijuana use as a barrier to service.

Another notable measure is that all police who deal with civilians on a regular basis will be required to use body cameras by 2025. They will also not be allowed to stop individuals from filming them, provided the person is doing so “lawfully and safely.” 


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