Final push for police department accountability

Posted at 11:51 PM, Apr 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-08 07:24:54-04

With just days to go before the end of the legislative session, there is a final push to bring more accountability to police departments in Baltimore City and around the state.

No changes to the "Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights" passed during last year's legislative session.  Then just after the session ended, Freddie Gray died in the custody of Baltimore City police.

Dozens of people gathered outside the State House on Thursday night; hours earlier, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee passed a bill that could bring some the reforms they're calling for.

Their main goal -- getting civilians onto the trial boards that review allegations of police misconduct.

“What that does is it creates a way for civilians to actually be a part of the process to get access to all the information, so that the general public has confidence that the discipline that's happening is something that's amenable to what the community would expect,” said Dayvon Love of the group Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle.

Right now trial boards are made up of law enforcement officers.  Unions representing police officers around the state believe that adding civilians would create privacy issues.

“What we're dealing with here is a trial board process, which is a personnel matter. The courts have ruled in Maryland that personnel records are not open to the public for disclosure,” said Vince Canales, the president of the state’s Fraternal Order of Police.

Earlier in the evening, many of the same protesters in Annapolis had gathered outside City Hall in Baltimore.

They believe something will pass before the end of the legislative session.

They're just not sure exactly what it will be:

“Because I think PR-wise it just would look bad for the General Assembly not to move on such an important issue,” Love said.  “The question is, what is the nature of the legislation that will come out.”

The current bill would make it possible for citizens to serve on trial boards, but would leave the final decision to local jurisdictions.

The FOP does not support the bill.  But if it does pass, members hope civilians who eventually serve on trial boards might have some kind of law enforcement background.

“Individuals need to have that expertise, that ability. And it's going to take some time to get them trained and up to speed to basically understand why an officer does what he or she does during the course of their duty,” Canales said.

The bill now heads to the full Senate.  If the bill is going to pass, both the Senate and the House of Delegates would have to agree on identical versions before the General Assembly session ends Monday at midnight.

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