Maryland at a crossroads on Tuesday – rally for police reform, pack the hearing room!

2015 MD House Judiciary LEOBOR hearings begin, with Del. Jill Carter testifying for HB968.

The lines are drawn for a critical confrontation about the future of Maryland policing and its worst-in-nation “Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights” (LEOBOR) on Tuesday.

As a glance at the day’s work schedule shows, there are literally dozens (32 to be exact) of  bills that will be considered that day, on very important topics ranging from SWAT team reporting to body camera regulations.  But two in particular offer a very clear choice for the state of Maryland — still reeling from the Baltimore uprising of a year ago after Freddie Gray was killed in custody by Baltimore police.

On one side, there’s HB1016, a bill backed by the Senate and House leadership, that largely adopts disappointing or worse recommendations by the “Public Safety and Policing Workgroup.” The improvements the bill proposes are timid — a 10 day delay in interrogating an officer is reduced to 5, a 90 day period to file complaints is extended to 366 days. Worse, it adopts a proposal by police unions to pack officer brutality hearing boards with at least 2 out of 3 members acceptable to the officer — cementing in state code rules that only a few police unions* have been able to obtain at the bargaining table.

On the other, there’s HB760, Delegate Jill Carter’s resubmission of the excellent HB968 bill she offered last year.**  Her bill would properly completely eliminate the administrative interrogation delay and the time to file a complaint, would allow civilians to participate in the LEOBOR hearing boards — and would empower those hearing boards only to hear appeals of police chief disciplinary actions, rather than serving as the primary disciplinary proceeding.

As a Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability statement (see below) puts it, “Now, our state can either be a national leader on police accountability reform or we make minor changes and continue the status quo – or worse. … Without amendments, the leadership bill would actually create an accountability structure for brutality complaints that’s even worse than the current system. Instead, Maryland must take this historic opportunity to enact a system that achieves just outcomes.”

The same statement issues a clear list of demands for police accountability, many of which are met in HB760 and other bills to be considered on Tuesday.  If what happened to Freddie Gray, or Gary Hopkins, or Dale Graham, or Emmanuel Okutuga have moved you to demand police accountability, not impunity, then — unless it’s substantially amended — the leadership bill HB1016 falls too far short of what’s needed to merit your support.  Join us on Tuesday to demand better.

* Unfortunately, one of the police unions that has already packed hearing boards in this way is Montgomery County’s.
** HB760 differs from HB968 only by the removal of 2 brackets (“]”,”[“) on page 10 of the bill.

Posted in Post | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

WMATA: come clean about bag searches, comply with MCCRC records request



Still from Metro Transit PD video of its bag search process

Last November, the Washington Area Metro Transit Authority (WMATA) police department announced it was resuming a controversial bag search procedure in which (allegedly) random customers are asked to submit to testing of their bags prior to entering the system.

On January 5th, MCCRC filed a “Public Access Records Policy” (PARP) request with WMATA asking for basic information regarding the bag search program: locations and times of deployments, procedures to assure random selections, numbers of false positives, search refusals, reports, costs, and program evaluations.

PARP requests are the WMATA counterpart for the better known “FOIA” (Freedom of Information Act) requests for federal records, and WMATA’s operating guidelines about them explicitly acknowledge the FOIA model.  Like the FOIA process, PARP process has rules, guidelines — and deadlines, which specify (see Section 7.10) that a decision whether to comply should happen within 20 working days (4 weeks) of the request, with the possibility of an additional 10 working day extension if obtaining the information is particularly difficult.

That’s 6 weeks in all —  and that deadline passed a few days ago, on Tuesday the 16th.

Our original request and subsequent correspondence with WMATA can be viewed at  “MuckRock,” a service facilitating FOIA requests like ours.  The MuckRock record shows that we’ve worked with WMATA’s legal department both by email and by phone, documenting our good faith interest in publishing the results as a news provider, narrowing our request from the past 5 years to the last 6 months, and not contesting a frankly outrageous estimate of 200 person hours and more than $4,000 for the 5 year request.  We’re assured that WMATA is working to retrieve the requested information — but we were also assured two weeks ago that we’d hear back by early the next week, and that didn’t happen either.

While we’re disappointed with the current breakdown in WMATA’s PARP process, we remain determined to see it through.  Perhaps this update may help.

Why oppose warrantless, suspicionless bag searches?

To tell the truth, the burden to explain shouldn’t really be on us, it should be on WMATA — and that’s what the PARP request does.  As we’ve said before, warrantless, suspicionless search programs aren’t just unconstitutional — they’re stupid.  And they’re not just stupid — they’re stupid by definition.  The Fourth Amendment is not an inconvenience or a luxury to law enforcement — it is wisdom itself.  What unconstitutional program of picking a few people out at random for no reason from tens of thousands of riders will ever work?  Why would that ever be better than insisting on police having a reason to search a bag?  As we accede to this kind of search and many others, what’s next? Random frisking on city sidewalks?  Oh wait, that’s happening too. Enough is enough.

We believe the information we’re seeking will bear us out.  That’s why it’s important that WMATA finally come clean about its bag search program.


Posted in Post | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

MCCRC 2016 Annapolis legislative tracker

During the coming weeks, MCCRC will be maintaining a list of pending Maryland legislation of particular significance to civil rights and civil liberties in our state. The list — embedded below — is annotated with current MCCRC positions (the first highlighted column).

In addition, we list the positions of Maryland coalitions we support:

  • Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability (MCJPA)
  • Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (MAJR)
  • Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland (MPCM)
Maryland flag

Maryland House Office Building

Scroll towards the right to see more about each bill — in particular, its sponsor, next hearing date, official synopsis and title. Click on the bill’s HB or SB number to see Maryland General Assembly web site information about it.

When we don’t take a position on a bill, that only means that we haven’t adequately investigated the issue and the legislation yet — or are not sure how urgent it is to do so.  For example, it appears that Delegate Cluster’s HB0252 bill amounts to the kind of Florida-style “stand your ground” legislation that contributed to Trayvon Martin’s death — but it may also be that bill won’t get far.  Given the avalanche of legislation in Annapolis, we simply take note of bills like this one — and are doubtless also overlooking other important bills.

This kind of tracking wouldn’t be possible without the Maryland General Assembly’s legislative tracking tool; to use it, visit the Assembly’s “Legislation Tracking – Main” page, and establish a user name and password.  Then when you see legislation of interest to you, click through to its main web page and click the “blue thumbtack” at the upper right, and begin setting up a tracking list.

Posted in Post | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Phonebanking for police reform with Progressive Maryland

  • WHERE: 35 University Blvd, Silver Spring, MD (United Methodist Church; enter via playground) (map)
  • WHEN: Thursday, Feb 18, 6-9pm
  • WHY: Get commitments to join us at a rally and hearings for police reform in Annapolis next Tuesday!
  • RSVP: Progressive Maryland event page

Working together with Progressive Maryland, we urge everyone who can to join us for an informational briefing on police reform legislation Thursday evening at the United Methodist Church offices of Progressive Maryland.  After the briefing, we’ll begin phonebanking to get participants for next Tuesday’s rally and hearings in Annapolis.

Police reform phonebankers, Progressive Maryland office: Denise, Elsa. (2/3/16)

Whether or not you join us tonight, let Progressive Maryland and MCCRC know you demand police accountability by adding your name to those demanding police accountability.  After you sign, we’ll be in touch with you by email, phone, and the Internet about ways to plug in to Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability (MCJPA) legislative strategies for police reform in the coming weeks and months.

Two important notes:

  1. First, while you don’t have to, the most helpful thing you can do is provide your address and phone number via the signature page.  That way…
    1. if members of your Annapolis delegation need to hear from us, we’ll know you’re in their district, and
    2. we can reach you quickly to get your help emailing, calling, or visiting them.
  2. Second, Progressive Maryland will share this contact information with MCCRC when it’s gathered via links from MCCRC blog posts like this one, emailings, and Facebook posts; we’ll use that information for this and other civil rights and civil liberties work in the future.

See you at six o’clock tonight — and in Annapolis on Tuesday!

Posted in Post | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

MCCRC testimony on HB257 historical location data bill by Del. Moon

MCCRC submitted written testimony today in support of an “admirably succinct” bill, HB257, by Delegate David Moon (D-20, Montgomery County) that would address a major loophole in Maryland electronic surveillance law: the ability to view historical location data.

By adding just two phrases to the Maryland Code (“OR HISTORICAL DATA,” ‘that is “OR WAS” generated by or derived from the operation of [an electronic device]’) and one paragraph, the bill would require law enforcement agencies to obtain court permission to examine historical location data obtained from electronic devices such as cell phones or cell phone records.

As can be imagined, access to historical location data is a treasure trove of information about you in today’s cell phone age.  As Sara Love, ACLU-Maryland’s legislative director put it, “We believe [historical tracking] is in some ways a more serious invasion of privacy [than real-time tracking]  – where you have been says a lot about you (do you go to the gym?  A bar?  Spend the night at someone else’s house?).” 

The Electronic Privacy Information Center’s extensive entry on locational privacy makes the added important point that “When individuals are moving about in public and private spaces, they do not expect to be tracked wherever they go. […] Cell phones, smartphones, and other mobile devices (e.g. laptops and tablets) can be located whenever they are turned on. Current location-tracking technologies can be used to pinpoint users of mobile devices in several ways. … historical location can frequently be discerned from service provider records.”


Selected 2009 historical cell phone location data for German Bundestag delegate Malte Spitz. Map produced by German newsweekly “Die Zeit.” Click image or link for a closer view and to run the time-lapse movie of his September 2009 to February 2010 movements.

As we note in our testimony, one extremely compelling demonstration of using service provider records was provided by German Green Party delegate Malte Spitz in 2009.  He obtained a six month log of his own records from Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile owner) and, in collaboration with the German newsweekly Die Zeit, was able to construct a daily, often hourly and even minute to minute journal of his movements over that time span.

We’re proud to support this bill, and grateful to Delegate Moon for introducing it.  The bill has 12 co-sponsors (including  nine fellow Judiciary Committee members including Delegate Will Smith, also D-20). Montgomery County residents may want to contact Delegates Moon, Smith, and Morales (D-19) to commend them for advancing this bill, but also Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D-15, Potomac/Poolesville) to urge her to support it as well.

Written testimony follows:

Continue reading

Posted in Post | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Guest post: Montgomery County electronic voting finally gets a real paper trail

Voting is one of the most fundamental civil rights — but electronic systems used by Maryland and Montgomery County have been vulnerable to abuse. Now new systems, to be deployed in April, promise improvement. Guest author Robert Lanza explains.

DS200 Ballot Box (ESS)

DS200 Ballot Box (ESS)

I attended a presentation by Montgomery County Board of Elections outreach, to introduce our new voting machines.  There will be two systems, one for the Early Voting period and one for Election Day voting.  Both systems are electronic (touch screen) systems that will generate a paper ballot (permanent) record of the votes cast. This conforms (finally) to legislation passed unanimously by the Maryland legislature about ten years ago that required a state-wide paper ballot system.

The short explanation for the ten-year delay is that the recession hit shortly after the legislation passed, and there was never any budget to purchase new voting machines until now.  There was also foot-dragging by the State Election Administrator.  The explanation for the fact that there are two different systems for Early Voting and for Election Day is that there aren’t enough of the type of machines that will be used during the Early Voting period to also deploy on Election Day, when voter volume will be much higher. Montgomery County intends to go to a single type of paper ballot system for the next election, and has leased the voting machinery only for 2016 rather than purchase the voting machinery outright, to allow for future improvements and system harmonization.

The Montgomery County Board of Education referenced that “Takoma Park activists” were in part responsible for the paper ballot system.

ExpressVote (ESS)

ExpressVote (ESS) – allows voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently.

Some meeting attendees still questioned why Maryland needs paper ballots. This is an important responsibility of the Montgomery County Board of Elections outreach, to better explain that this isn’t just the law, it is also a good idea.  One recent example is hackers who recently conducted an experiment to hack into an automobile on-board computer system, using a wireless system, and “drove” the automobile remotely while the driver (who was in on the experiment) just sat there.

Also, some meeting attendees were grumbling about the fact that Maryland doesn’t require voter ID every time people vote (ID is required to register and for first-time voters.)  There is this Great Myth that “voter impersonation” is rampant, when there is no evidence that this is the case.  The Montgomery County Board of Elections outreach representative noted that there have been some “intentional” instances of voter impersonation (activists trying to prove that it can be done to make a political point, and committing a felony in the process).  A rational way to look at this is that a voter impersonator can change one vote. A hacker with a wireless system can change all the votes.

The Montgomery County Board of Elections has lots of info about the new paper ballot systems on their website:

Anyway, an accomplishment for us activists.

Posted in Post | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Police reform coalition responds in detail to Annapolis recommendations

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.

12313696_779577405521004_486169043346165051_nThe 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.

Posted in Post | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Take it to Annapolis! Citizen lobbyist packets for Raskin Syrian refugee letter available

Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20)

Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20)

State senator Jamie Raskin’s letter endorsing Syrian refugee settlement is making waves in Annapolis!

Already, 18 delegates and senators — including the whole District 20 team representing Takoma Park and Silver Spring — have joined Senator Raskin to urge Governor Hogan to avoid demagoguery and follow federal law about this issue.  (Hopefully, you’ve already emailed your delegation about co-signing it!)

Now it’s time to give them a visit. The best times to pay a visit to your delegation — or other members of the General Assembly — are…

  • Monday evenings, 6-8pm
  • Tues-Thursday 9-10am and 11:30-1pm
  • Friday 9-11am and immediately after session, usually 12-2pm

You may only find staffers; you can try to set up a face to face meeting with your delegation (usually three delegates and one senator) in advance by calling ahead.  (If you don’t know who they are, you can use this lookup system.)

Consider offering others a ride, or see if you can get a lift yourself — using the page we’ve set up for the purpose.

Before you go, you should download and print…

Assemble one packet for each legislator you intend to visit, stapling them together in the order indicated.  You should definitely plan to visit your own State senator and three delegates, if they haven’t already signed.  (Again, if you don’t know who they are, you can use this lookup system.)

Drop by the Raskin office (Room 122, James Senate Office Building, 11 Bladen Street, Annapolis) before you get started, so you can hang up your coat and put away your other items before you hit the hallways.

If you go, snap some pictures and share them and your stories with us here or over at the “Maryland Welcomes Refugees” web site,  Thanks!



Posted in Post | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Senator Raskin circulates pro-Syrian refugee letter in Annapolis – you can help

Beginning of Maryland General Assembly letter by State Senator Jamie Raskin, who is seeking cosignatures. You can help him do that here.

The Syrian refugee crisis hasn’t gone away, of course — nor has the urgency of confronting fearful and often Islamophobic commentary about accepting those (and other) refugees to our country.

So State Senator Jamie Raskin has penned a strong letter of support for Syrian refugees that he’s circulating in Annapolis. Excerpts:

Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20)

Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20)

We, the undersigned Members of the Maryland General Assembly, write to endorse the settlement in Maryland of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. America was founded as a “haven of refuge,” as Tom Paine put it, for people all over the world seeking a new life free from repression and war. As the Free State, Maryland has always done its part to welcome refugees fleeing crisis, and there is no justification for us to cut and run from our basic values today.  […]

Our nation and our state were founded to give people fleeing persecution a safe haven. Welcoming Syrian refugees according to the law, and not scapegoating them according to fear, speaks to our best traditions and hopes for the future. We trust and hope that you and your administration will act accordingly and not fall for the demagoguery and paranoia that have overtaken the leadership of other states in the Union.

The letter also refers to the “significant and eloquent statements in support of accepting Syrian refugees made during the legislative interim by the Councils of Greenbelt, Howard County, Montgomery County, Rockville, and Takoma Park, along with the Mayor of Baltimore, and 39 state and local civil rights, faith, labor, humanitarian, social justice, and immigrant and refugee service provider organizations” (links added). For the full text, see the embedded document below.


Take action at “Maryland Welcomes Refugees.”

Please help by urging your Annapolis delegation to sign on to Senator Raskin’s eloquent letter.

Just go to the “Take Action” page at Maryland Welcomes Refugees. Using your street address, the web site will provide you with the email addresses of your three delegates and senator, and a short message of support you can (and should) modify with your own words.

The full text of Senator Raskin’s letter follows: Continue reading

Posted in Post | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Annapolis MLK evening rally, die-in highlight police accountability agenda

Activists Leigh Crenshaw, Jonathan Hutto, Elsa Lakew (MCCRC / Progressive Maryland), and Mekdes Sisay at the rally.

About two hundred activists braved a bitterly cold evening on Martin Luther King Day in Annapolis’s Lawyers Mall — directly in front of the Maryland State House — to send the message to the Maryland legislature that police accountability reform would remain a key issue in 2016.

The rally, organized by the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability (MCJPA), was led by Larry Stafford (executive director of Progressive Maryland), who began by noting that he was determined and proud to be there despite the death, the day before, of a good friend and mentor.  He went on to introduce speakers including Rev. Janelle Bruce (St. Johns Baptist Church), Delegate Diana Fennell*, Marion Gray-Hopkins and Darlene Cain (mothers of police victims), Lawrence Grandpre (Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle-Baltimore), Sara Love (ACLU-MD), Elsa Lakew (Progressive Maryland, also MCCRC), and youth leaders from CASA and City Bloc.   Spoken word artist Lady Brion and singers Jordan, Ariana, and Caciana Garvin from the Restoration New Life Church performed as well.

Rallygoers and signs

Several speakers noted satisfaction at some of the progress shown by the recommendations of the Public Safety working group — but disappointment at the shortcomings of those recommendations, particularly the late breaking one that would actually increase FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) influence on use-of-force hearing boards.

Among the remarks:

  • Larry Stafford (Progressive Maryland):  “…as Dr. Martin Luther King has so often said, our duty is to struggle… Last year, as many of you know, there were many reforms brought before the General Assembly that did not pass… Then after the legislative session came the death of Freddie Gray, and the unrest and the uprising that we saw in Baltimore City. Only after that did the leadership begin to recognize that this is something we can actually make a difference on here in Maryland.”
  • Rev. Janelle Bruce (St. Johns Baptist Church): “we’re here today because we’re tired of unchecked abuse of police power, God, we’re tired of seeing our children, our sisters, our brothers, God, die by a system of injustice…right now we pray for the heart of every single lawmaker that walks through these doors and sits as a public servant… when our legislators sit in their seats, God, let them remember Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland and Michael Brown and Tanisha Anderson…”
  • Delegate Diana Fennell*: “…we will be sure to hold police accountable for their actions… We support you and thank you so very, very much.”
  • Marion Gray-Hopkins: “Justice will not come unless we fight for it.  Justice will not come until we fix this broken system. … We’re not going to win this battle as individuals. It’s going to require us to work collectively, by organizing in our churches, civil organizations, and our homes.”
  • Elsa Lakew (Progressive Maryland, MCCRC): “I just want to say to some of these legislators even though they’re not here with us… that black folks do not need your remorse, black people do not need any more of your tears, what we need you to do is pray, yes, but pray on your feet… by going into your offices, advocating for accountability legislation to finally be passed.” (Ms. Lakew’s prepared remarks can be read here.)
  • Sara Love (ACLU-MD): “A lot of the recommendations that the work group put out are good — they don’t go far enough, and we need to push them to be stronger — but one of them is downright horrible. At the last minute the FOP added a recommendation that would give them control over discipline!  It could mandate that the… internal hearing boards that are convened to decide whether an officer [has] engaged in misconduct would be dominated by the FOP.  Now let’s remember that the FOP are the people who think the officers in the Freddie Gray case did nothing wrong… I want each and every one of you to call your legislators and tell them that recommendation cannot pass.”
  • Lawrence Grandpre (LBS): “…under the recommendation given out by the work group, they want to make it so that you have to divulge your full name and identity to the police when you pose a complaint.  These are the same people who have harassed you and abused you, and now they know who you are, and if they wanted to retaliate, now they can. […] I want you to remember a few things about these so-called reforms.  Even… if everything they proposed passed, Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) would be roughly the same as Arizona’s and Louisiana’s — even after reform!  On top of that, the provision Sara is talking about, they took that straight out of Rhode Island, they took the worst provision from Rhode Island and brought it on down south here to Maryland.  …That’s the way that they play the game here in Maryland for years: tell you that they’re going to reform, put the knife 7 inches in your back, pull it out 3 inches and call that progress.”

Here is a video playlist of the evening’s speakers.

Groundlevel snapshot, die-in. (My fingers were too numb to focus the picture.)

The highlight of the event was a moving die-in.  As the first names, counties, and races of dozens of Maryland police-involved fatalities were read out, participants, one by one, took a sheet of paper for each victim and lay down in front of the “Equal Justice” monument to Thurgood Marshall with a small electric candle.  (Mine was Jason, white, in Baltimore County.)

Regardless of the circumstances for any individual case, we must wonder how many of them could and should have been handled without loss of life — and we must insist on public accountability for all of them, and for real reform, not progress in some areas undermined by defeat in others.  As Lawrence Grandpre concluded his remarks,

“Right now, we’re mainly willing to hear the process.  If they continue to not hear our demands, we are going to disrupt the process.  And if they continue not to heed the community, we will be left with no choice but to try to end the process.”


Selected coverage:

= = = =
* EDIT, 1/26: The delegate on hand was Del. Diana Fennell, not Barbara Robinson.  We regret our error.

Posted in Post | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment