Tag Archives: police

Police reform: House panel endorses LEOBR repeal

A working group of Maryland lawmakers appointed by House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones yesterday recommended that the state repeal its first‐​in‐​the‐​nation Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a law that I and others have inveighed against for years.

As I wrote in 2015:

Maryland was the first state to pass a LEOBR, in 1972, and by now many states have followed, invariably after lobbying from police unions and associations. Often the bills are sponsored by Republicans, who seem to forget their normal skepticism of public employees as an interest group when uniformed services are involved.

Despite minor revisions following the Freddie Gray episode, the Maryland law retains its most objectionable features, as I observed in a piece this summer, including a five‐​business‐​day “get your story straight” period in which a department cannot question officers after an incident; rules prescribing that the process of investigation and discipline be reserved in general to fellow officers; and a lid on the release of information in which the public is legitimately interested.

As lawmakers observed at a late September hearing, repeal would still leave in place numerous other mechanisms by which police officers charged with misconduct could resist investigation and discipline, including state civil service rules, union contract provisions, and Supreme Court doctrines giving public employees constitutional rights to contest some dismissals.

Definitions vary, but per one 2015 roundup, at least a dozen other states as of then had enacted bills similar to Maryland’s into law, including California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. All states with such a law, and the equivalent laws sometimes enacted for correctional officers, should follow Maryland’s lead in considering repeal. And the truly terrible idea of making everything worse by imposing LEOBR rules from shore to shore, a perennial measure championed in the U.S. Congress by such as Sens. Mitch McConnell (R‐​Ky.) and Joe Biden (D‐​Del.), should be buried on the ocean floor, never to rise again.

[cross-posted from Cato at Liberty; earlier here, etc.]

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In miniature, August 21

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Repeal LEOBR, the police-unaccountability law

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.

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In miniature, July 6

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In miniature, March 7

  • Information about abuse by officers who represent the public is information that should be public [Ava-joye Burnett, WJZ on Baltimore sunlight-on-settlements ordinance] General Assembly considers greater police transparency [Samantha Hawkins, Maryland Matters]
  • Oh! Takoma! “The proposal… would ban all gas appliances, close fossil fuel pipelines, and move gas stations outside city limits by 2045. The cost to the average homeowner could reach $25,000, officials wrote.” [Rebecca Tan, Washington Post on Takoma Park anti-fossil fuels scheme]
  • Montgomery County ordinance requires bicycle registration, authorizes impoundment and misdemeanor charges if cyclists lack the requisite sticker [Jacob Sullum, Reason]
  • Critical profile of Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is influential locally as well as on children’s issues nationally [Martin Morse Wooster, Capital Research]
  • Reform of Maryland’s harsh teen “sexting” laws welcome [Amy Alkon]
  • Neat trick: Montgomery County manages to run its monopoly liquor stores in the red, recalling the days of Off-Track Betting when New York ran monopoly gambling parlors and contrived to lose money on them [Bruce Leshan, WUSA]

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In miniature, October 19

  • Federal judge rejects four states’ suit challenging Congress’s changes to the SALT (state and local tax) exemption. Maryland AG Brian Frosh wasted the state’s resources and credibility on a suit that should never have been filed [Ilya Somin]
  • While on the subject, it’s worth noting how the state’s drug pricing law went down in flames, although the blame for its indefensibility would in this case be the legislature’s [Josh Kurtz, Maryland Matters]
  • Campaign to raise legal age of marriage to as high as 18 belatedly runs into some serious opposition as ACLU, other liberal groups concerned with youth rights and autonomy join conservatives skeptical of forcing out-of-wedlock births and libertarians who support, well, liberty [Dartunorro Clark, MSNBC] Due credit to the Women’s Law Center of Maryland, which helped block a bad bill of this sort in the 2018 Assembly, pointing out that there are other ways to detect and intervene against involuntary marriages [Scott Dance, Baltimore Sun; an opposing view (i.e., favoring ban) from UMD sociologist Philip Cohen]
  • Yuripzy Morgan took time on her WBAL radio show to discuss my article on the Supreme Court’s consideration of job bias law and you can listen here;
  • Stephen J.K. Walters makes a case for aerial surveillance as a Baltimore policing tool [Law and Liberty] In 2016 my colleague Matthew Feeney expressed libertarian misgivings about the “secret and indiscriminate surveillance” such systems enable;
  • “Maryland’s State Pension May Be Only 35 Percent Funded” [Carol Park, Maryland Public Policy Institute]

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Baltimore begins nullifying nearly 800 bad-cop convictions

Baltimore continues to pay a high price for the sorts of police corruption and misconduct on display in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. Part of that price is that convictions need to be thrown out, even in cases where a real crime may have been committed and not all the evidence was tainted. From the Sun:

“When you have sworn police officers involved in egregious and long-standing criminal activity such as planting guns and drugs, stealing drugs and money, selling drugs, making illegal arrests, and bringing false charges, our legal and ethical obligation in the pursuit of justice leaves us no other recourse but to ‘right the wrongs’ of unjust convictions associated with corrupt police officers,” Mosby wrote in an email.

And if you think maybe we could get fuller disclosure of police disciplinary proceedings so that problems might be headed off before they reach the stage of massive scandal, well, good luck with that.

More from the Abell Foundation: “Baltimore Police Department: Understanding its status as a state agency”:

The Baltimore Police Department became a State Agency 158 years ago in response to the rise of the Know-Nothing Party in Baltimore City. By 1860, the Know-Nothing Party had taken complete political control of Baltimore City, relying on violence and coercion. The Maryland General Assembly reached the conclusion that the City and Mayor had proven themselves incapable of maintaining order in the City of Baltimore and accordingly enacted Public Local Laws making the Baltimore Police Department a State Agency.

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Got no use for logical cops

Sentences worth pondering, from coverage of the U.S. Department of Justice’s employment-practices suit against Baltimore County: “The exams tested reading, grammar, logic and other skills that the suit alleges are not related to the job of being a police officer or police cadet.” Critics take heart, however: “County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. issued a statement saying the police department has discontinued the test.” [Pamela Wood and Wilborn P. Nobles III, Baltimore Sun] (cross-posted from Overlawyered)

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In miniature, February 7

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In miniature, December 21

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