Maryland on Saturday made history by becoming the first state to repeal its powerful “Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and establishing new rules for when police are allowed to use force, how they are investigated and how they are disciplined.
The state’s Democratic-majority legislature voted to override the vetoes of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of several bills designed to rein in police. The measures place stricter rules on officers’ use of force, restrict no-knock warrants and mandate the use of body cameras. Criminal justice advocates applauded the new laws, saying they will help make policing in Maryland fairer and more transparent. Democrats hold large majorities in both houses of the state’s legislature and had made police reform a top priority after months of protests over the police-involved deaths of several unarmed Black men and women, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“Maryland is leading the nation in transforming our broken policing system,” said House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), who sponsored the repeal of the officers’ bill of rights and is the first Black person to hold her leadership role. “I am proud to lead the House in overriding the governor’s veto and showing the nation exactly where we stand as a state.”
The legislation imposes one of the strictest police use-of-force standards in the nation, according to experts; requires officers to prioritize de-escalation tactics; and imposes a criminal penalty for those found to have used excessive force.
While the bills were being debated many White Republican lawmakers talked about the dangers police officers face on the job and said the bills would remove needed protections. Black Democratic lawmakers responded with passionate and personal arguments for why police officers need better training and said they hoped the legislation would change policing culture and attitudes toward Black people.
“I want to make it out alive, too,” said Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), a former prosecutor who said his size and his skin color have often aroused suspicion from police.
“When I look into that officer’s eyes, they’re not looking at me like I’m another human being,” Wilson said. “At best, I’m a threat. At worst, I’m an animal. That is unacceptable.”