SB0566 and LEOBOR reform in Maryland — what is it, why is it needed?

Maryland flagThe centerpiece of coalition police reform efforts in Maryland this year is overhauling the so-called “Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights” (acronym LEOBOR or LEOBR) statute.*  The main vehicle for doing so is SB566 (“Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights – Alterations”), displayed in its current form at the end of this post, and the corresponding house bill HB968.

As ACLU Maryland’s executive director Susan Goering wrote for the Baltimore Sun in mid January,

Enacted in 1974, Maryland’s LEOBR is one of the most extreme such laws in the country. It covers two components of the disciplinary process: the internal investigations that may lead to a recommendation of disciplinary action against a police officer and procedures that must be followed once an investigation results in a recommendation of discipline.

As currently structured, LEOBR grants police officers special rights when they are investigated for misconduct, imposes significant impediments to conducting an adequate investigation and takes responsibility for discipline away from police chiefs.

In particular, an ACLU-MD briefing paper notes that an officer can not be questioned by superiors for 10 days following an incident, and excessive force complaints must be brought within 90 days of the incident. Moreover, currently a hearing board happens first, the police chief’s action second — the reverse of what happens for other state and local employees.

Reform should also mean enabling strong civilian review boards, rather than just internal reviews by unconsciously or consciously biased colleagues.  Goering:

Self-review by public institutions is rarely the best form of ensuring a thorough, transparent and effective evaluation. Yet currently LEOBR precludes meaningful civilian review by mandating that only police can investigate or discipline other police. Reforms will preserve the ability of localities to construct meaningful civilian review boards.  (link added)

As ACLU’s Toni Holness put it for, “It’s the issue of who is policing the police. … They cannot police themselves. The conflict of interest in cases of police misconduct and brutality is very clear.”

A look at SB566 reveals the key passages where additions (in ALL CAPS) or deletions [bracketed out] begin to reform Maryland’s outdated LEOBR:

  • p.2, lines 1-8:  revisions cause internal hearings to come after discipline, not before.
  • p.2, lines 27-29: the deletion of this language ends the 90 day window for complaints.
  • p.3, lines 16-20: ends officer access to investigative results before he or she is questioned.
  • p. 4, lines 12-15: ends the initial 10 day ‘obtaining counsel’ period’ during which the officer may not be interrogated (without, of course, denying the right to counsel when interrogated).
  • p.6, lines 20-21: extends window of investigation to any time within one year of a successful civil claim by the plaintiff
  • p.7, lines 17-19: adds that residents of the jurisdiction may be appointed to appeals hearing boards

On the other hand, SB566 does not specifically authorize strong, independent civilian review boards; in particular, it does not revise any element of Section 3 part 102, specifying that the section supersedes any other law of the State, county, or municipal corporation., and it appears to leave civilian appointments to the appeals hearing process at the discretion of the police chief.

That said, the reforms in SB566 are extensive and worthwhile — and it will take work to get this law passed.  Our information is that…

  • State Senator Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore City), chair of Judicial Proceedings Committee

    As chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Senator Bobby Zirkin (D11) is the key to SB566 passage out of committee, and will be the key person that will make the case to the Senate President and the entire chamber on what happens with the legislation. Coalition advocates tell us “he is the number one Senate target.”

    Phone: 410-841-3131 | 301-858-3131| Toll-free: 1-800-492-7122 ext. 3131

    Tell him you support LEOBR reform and SB566, and hope that he will support its vote out of committee and on the floor.

  • The corresponding House committee chairman for HB968 is Joe Vallario (D23b)
    Phone: 410-841-3488 | 301-858-3488 | Toll-free: 1-800-492-7122 ext. 3488
  • Two area Democratic delegates are also targets on the House committee side.  Both reportedly have police officer relatives and may not support the bill.
    1. Kathleen Dumais (D15: Montgomery County – Poolesville/Barnesville)
      Phone: 410-841-3052 | 301-858-3052 | Toll-free: 1-800-492-7122 ext. 3052
    2. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D23a: Prince Georges County – Bowie)
      Phone: 410-841-3101 | 301-858-3101 | Toll-free: 1-800-492-7122 ext. 3101
      Ms. Valentino-Smith is reported to believe police abuse is not a problem in Maryland.  She is also Deputy Majority Whip, so her commitment to the bill would be important if it passes to the floor.
  • Consider thanking area Delegates Alfred Carr ( 1-800-492-7122 ext. 3638) and Ana Sol Gutierrez (1-800-492-7122 ext. 3181) for co-sponsoring HB968.

* Codified in Section 3 of the Public Safety article of the Maryland Code.

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9 Responses to SB0566 and LEOBOR reform in Maryland — what is it, why is it needed?

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  6. Andrea Pratt says:

    What made this law important to those. What happened in 1972 that made others want to pass a law like this?


  7. Short answer (IMO): the Nixon era reaction to the 60s. Longer answer: here’s a bit of history from a Huffington Post article.
    “The LEOBoR arose in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a reaction against the efforts of civil-rights activists to demand greater police accountability, including the advent of civilian review boards. Under these bills of rights, an investigation by fellow officers may preempt a civilian review. In two rulings in 1967 and 1968, the Supreme Court sided with police officers who claimed that they had been deprived of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The justices ruled that police could not be forced (by threat of firing or otherwise) to testify against themselves, even in an internal, administrative investigation. By 1972, Maryland had codified the high court’s decisions into the nation’s first LEOBoR. Florida soon followed, and then Rhode Island — considered the only state with a more police-friendly version of the LEOBoR than Maryland’s. (In Rhode Island, for example, not only is the accused officer’s case decided by a hearing board of three fellow officers, the officer gets to choose one of those officers.) Steve Drizin, a law professor at Northwestern University and an expert on the rights given to suspects — police and civilians — during questioning, says that these new bills of rights “were introduced by Fraternal Order of Police lobbyists, and sailed through legislatures in the 70’s and 80’s.””


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