I’m in this weekend’s Frederick News-Post with an opinion piece urging the General Assembly to repeal a law that has been central to obstructing police accountability in Maryland, the 1974 Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR).
Since Maryland adopted its first-in-the-nation law in 1974, it has spread to 15 other states, causing problems along the way. Among states with their own versions of the law are Minnesota, where a video recorded George Floyd’s asphyxiation while in police custody, and Kentucky, where officers’ fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in her Louisville apartment has sparked widespread outrage….
Don’t let the focus slip this time. LEOBR is designed to result in impunity, and it should go.
An annotated copy of the law as revised in 2015 is here (see also here). The U.S. Department of Justice investigatory report on the Baltimore City Police Department includes discussion of some problems caused by the law. In 2015, before the modest legislative revisions, the ACLU commissioned a report on the law (and the Baltimore police union contract, with which it interacts) from Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Note that police unions in places like Baltimore have negotiated contract provisions that institute some of the same barriers to discipline, or go even further, to the public’s detriment. Because of these provisions, repealing LEOBR would fix only part of the problem. For example, one contract says the city cannot even begin disciplinary hearings while criminal proceedings are pending against an officer. Other contract provisions have provided for disciplinary proceedings to be kept secret from the public, promote expungement of public complaints, or forbid job consequences when an officer is placed on the “do-not-call” list of those whose testimony would be highly vulnerable to impeachment by defense lawyers — although the ability to testify credibly should be one of the prerequisites of a police job. Legislation could help here by restricting bargaining to economic issues, such as wages, rather than discipline and investigation.
The New York Times, together with many other publications, has covered the contentions of Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery Village, Germantown) that he was fired by his employer, the MC-GEO union that represents many Montgomery County employees, because he refused to back down from his work on legislation to advance police accountability. More background on the shifting politics in Annapolis from Maryland Matters (citing Sen. William C. Smith, Jr.). More coverage from January on death of handcuffed William Green in Prince George’s police custody (“They deserve justice just like citizens do. They should give prompt statements just like citizens do. They should not be given time to cover up their crimes, which the police officer’s bill of rights was designed to let them do,” says family’s attorney); Washington Post letter to the editor last October on Silver Spring case.