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'SMART Policing Act' For Baltimore County Police Would Ban Chokeholds, All Neck Restraints, Adds Other New Policies To Modernize Policing

TOWSON, MD. (WJZ) — Baltimore County leaders announced Tuesday a new bill that is meant to improve and modernize policing in the county, citing the death of George Floyd and many others in police custody.

The "SMART Policing Act" would ban chokeholds and all neck restraints, unless a person's life is in immediate jeopardy.

It also requires a policy specifying that officers render aid or call for medical care for any person in police custody who has an obvious injury or complaint of an injury and another policy "affirming the sanctity of life and the dignity and value of all persons."

"We are living in a moment that demands action, and I am proud to join Councilman Jones and his colleagues in support of the SMART Policing Act to strengthen accountability and promote more equitable policing for all," said Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski. "We announced unprecedented reforms in June, which began the process of improving transparency and strengthening relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Today, we're coming together united in Baltimore County's next step forward in the ongoing fight for equal justice."

The county executive said the bill will bar individuals with prior disciplinary records in other jurisdictions or agencies from becoming a Baltimore County police officer, and requires annual training in de-escalation, implicit bias and the use of force.

Officers would also be obligated to intervene to stop fellow officers from using excessive force and report uses of force, and provide protections to prohibit retaliation against those who report the misconduct.

"I think what we have here today is a bill that to be quite frank represents an awful lot of soul searching and sacrifice on everybody's part and I think we have a product, or bill, that will make the police department better," Councilman Jones said.

In an attempt of transparency, the county will release dashboards displaying data on the complaints, instances of uses of force and traffic stop data.

Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt called the bill a "collaborative effort to forward public safety."

The county's police union said in a statement they're supporting the SMART Policing Act, but Police Chief Melissa Hyatt voiced concerns policy changes could have.

"It's really about understanding that there may be a circumstance where an officer is in defense of their own life, or in defense of another's life, and there could be a time where there are no alternatives, and we have to give them the ability to defend themselves or the life of another person," Hyatt told WJZ.

The SMART Policing Act will be officially introduced during the County Council session Tuesday evening.

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