As issues of police brutality and the improper use of force during arrests became headlines amid demonstrations across the country last year, at least one state legislative body has decided to confront the issue head on. On Saturday, legislators in Maryland enacted sweeping changes to limit police use of force, restrict no-knock warrants and repeal the landmark state’s Bill of Rights for law enforcement, passed 47 years ago.
All of this came about over the vetoes of Governor Larry Hogan, who charged that the changes will erode public confidence and lower police morale. Other critics suggested that the reforms will make it harder for the police to police.
The Maryland Law Enforcement Bill of Rights
The law that gave police officers unprecedented workplace protections far exceeding those of other government employees in 1973 reflected the policies of the time in many ways. Introduced on behalf of Baltimore’s police union, it was intended to address workplace abuses of police officers that included mass firings, investigations of low-ranking officers and officers being subjected to lie detector tests.
But what resulted from these new protections was a loss of public accountability for law enforcement in excessive use of force cases, sometimes due to an officer’s right to appeal disciplinary actions. While some states require officers to cooperate with investigators within 48 hours, for example, the Maryland law allowed five days, hindering police brutality investigations. Most importantly, Maryland’s law served as a precedent for 15 other states to adopt similar legislation.
What the new reforms will do
Under the new laws, every county in the state will have a police accountability board and civilian oversight in overseeing complaints of police misconduct. The use of no-knock warrants will be restricted. And there will be a phased-in requirement by 2025 that officers wear body cameras when engaging with the public, and police officers will be prohibited from blocking citizens from recording their actions.
Citizens who experience the excessive use of force during confrontations with law enforcement do not always realize at the time that they do have rights and protections under the U.S. Constitution. When an individual in Glen Burnie and throughout Maryland is charged and detained under suspicion of having committed a crime, they also have a right to aggressive defense counsel that will represent their interests and fight to minimize any damage done in the event of a conviction.