By Ovetta Wiggins
A Maryland legislative panel on Monday offered sweeping changes in police policies, including giving officers periodic psychological evaluations and allowing the public to attend police trial boards.
Under the proposed changes, residents would also be given more time to file brutality complaints.
The Public Safety and Policing Work Group voted to submit 21 recommendations to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) for the General Assembly to consider. It spent the past six months reviewing police practices and devising ways to improve police-community relations.
“It’s a very strong working package of proposals for reform,” said Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), a member of the panel.
As the national debate continues over the use of force by police officers, particularly against minorities, the recommendations send a strong signal that efforts to bolster criminal justice and police reforms will take place in Maryland during its 90-day legislative session.Criminal justice reform advocates said they were pleased with many of the proposals, specifically those that would create more transparency when police officers are accused of wrongdoing.
“It’s a really good first step, and we look forward to working with the General Assembly to strengthen it,” said Sara Love, the public policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.
An official with the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police said the union will work with the legislature to ensure that police officers receive due process and are treated fairly. The union has concerns about the psychological evaluations, and a recommendation would change how quickly officers must cooperate with internal investigations.
The panel called for reducing the state’s “10-day rule,” which gives officers 10 days to get a lawyer before cooperating with an investigation, to five days.
“This is just the beginning of the process,” said Vince Canales, president of the state police union. “We know there are potential changes coming up in the legislative session.”
The panel’s recommendations are the third set of proposals from committees recently investigating criminal justice and policing issues in Maryland. A second committee made recommendations on the use of police body cameras, and a third recently submitted a 10-year, $247 million plan to reduce recidivism and the state’s prison population by focusing more on community-based programs.
The legislature’s focus on police reform this session will unfold as juries in Baltimore decide the fate of six officers who were arrested in connection with the death of Freddie Gray.
Gray, 25, died in April after his spine was severed while in police custody. His death sparked riots in Baltimore and renewed calls from criminal justice reform advocates for the state to review policing practices.
Busch and Miller created the panel after the unrest, hoping to repair the relationship between the police and the community, which is fraught with distrust.
“The workgroup heard from almost 100 witnesses and incorporated many recommendations from members of the public and law enforcement,” Busch and Miller said in a joint statement. “We believe these recommendations will make measurable progress in improving policing practices in Maryland.”
The panel was expected to finish its work in December, but it ran into trouble reaching a consensus on a number of issues, including mandatory psychological evaluations for officers.
Police officers are given evaluations before they join the force, but Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore), who was a co-chairman of the panel, wanted routine psychological evaluations. Del. Curtis S. Anderson (D-Baltimore), who also served as co-chairman, said he thought officers should have to undergo regular evaluations, much like they have to requalify to be able to use their service weapons.
But the idea ran into resistance from the state police union.
“I think mental-health issues are a concern and something that should be addressed,” Pugh said.
After a lengthy debate Monday about whether psychological evaluations should be required every five years, the panel voted instead to require officers to receive them periodically and after “traumatic” incidents.
The panel also called for the creation of an independent Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission that would focus on setting standards and training for all police agencies.
Panel members said they repeatedly heard complaints about a lack of uniformity in standards in departments across the state.
The police training commission would also develop and require “anti-discrimination” and “use of force de-escalation” training for all officers. It would also set up a confidential early intervention policy for dealing with officers who receive three or more citizen complaints within a 12-month period.
The panel suggests that the commission require annual reporting of “serious” officer-involved incidents, the number of officers disciplined and the type of discipline that was given.
Other recommendations include developing a police complaint mediation program, creating recruitment standards that increase the number of female, African American and Hispanic candidates, and offering incentives, including property tax credits and state and local income tax deductions, to officers who live in the jurisdictions where they work.