Last summer, in the wake of the Freddie Gray unrest in Baltimore, a “Public Safety and Policing Work Group” (PSWG) of Annapolis legislators was convened to belatedly acknowledge some need for police reform, following the all but complete denial of reform efforts in the 2015 legislative session. On January 11, that group released a report and list of 23 recommendations, some good, but some quite bad — especially #23, which effectively hands control of administrative hearings in use-of-force incidents to police union representatives, by giving them statutory control over 2 of 3 persons seated as hearing board members.
The Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability has drafted a detailed list of responses to the PSWG recommendations. Before taking up objections, it’s worth noting that the recommendations as a whole were described as “a good first step,” and that fully fifteen of the 23 recommendations (#6-9, #11-13, #15-22) met with no objection or comment at all, and are entirely welcomed by MCJPA. These recommendations have to do with whistleblower protections, transparency of police department policies, and statewide law enforcement training standards and a new, independent Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission (MPTSC) created to compile and promulgate them.
For the remaining recommendations, one way to summarize MCJPA objections is:
- Complaints should be made easier to file, not harder: even a year is too short a time to file one — there shouldn’t be a time limit at all (#1), complainants shouldn’t have to divulge their identity, or have to be related or present at the time of the incident (#2, 3), since they may reasonably fear reprisal.
- Officers facing hearings should not get to “get their stories straight”: the proposed 5-day rule to retain counsel is 5 days too many (#4). There should be an explicit non-collusion provision attached to any such rule.
- Civilian participation in police oversight must be guaranteed, meaningful, not for show: investigations should not be restricted to sworn law enforcement officers (#5), civilians should not be shut out of use-of-force incident hearings (#23), and it should be clarified that civilians have a place in the proposed MPTSC (#10).
- Police can’t self-police: giving police unions statutory authority to seat one member of hearing boards and veto a second one (#23) puts them in control of the disciplinary process — a step back, not a step forward. “Currently the FOP has no role in choosing members of the trial board and this change would dramatically shift the power dynamic in the favor of officers accused of misconduct.“
The detailed MCJPA responses can be read below or at the MCJPA web site currently on Facebook.