(Headline USA) A package of police reforms in Maryland this year, prompted by the radical demands of Black Lives Matter, includes a proposed repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.
Critics say the laws have long stood as a barrier to officer discipline and accountability.
Maryland first enacted it in 1974, and about 20 states have adopted similar laws setting due process procedure for investigating police misconduct, including California, Florida and Texas.
After protests in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, police reform advocates now hope the first state to enact the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights will be the first to repeal it. Police union leaders, however, are concerned the changes could erode important law enforcement protections.
Since the riots started last year, 36 states introduced more than 700 bills addressing police accountability, and nearly 100 have been enacted, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Maryland law created procedural protections in disciplinary matters. For example, in 2013, officers accused in complaints were given a 10-day waiting period before the police department could interview them.
That was reduced to five days in 2016, after Maryland made some modest steps to reform the law in the wake of unrest caused by the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered fatal injuries in police custody.
DeRay Mckesson is a prominent activist and co-founder of a group dedicated to ending police violence called Campaign Zero. Testifying at a recent hearing, he said, “The only effect (of LEOBR laws) is that violent use of force increases.”
But Clyde Boatwright, the president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, is concerned the proposals will go too far.
He expressed the urgency in a November letter in which he warned union members, “we are in the fight of our lives.” The union is mounting an aggressive lobbying campaign.
“From the FOP’s perspective, the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights gives us a due process right that allows for our police officers to have a fair and impartial investigation and administrative process as relates to an allegation against a police officer,” Boatwright said.
Without it, officers could be susceptible to politically influenced decisions by top police officials, Boatwright said.
He also expressed concerns about police morale at a time of hiring problems, and he noted the frequency of public calls to police.
“You won’t call someone that you didn’t think could solve your problem,” Boatwright said.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press.