BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Maryland lawmakers tackled issues surrounding police reform in the state with a virtual meeting of the Workgroup to Address Police Reform and Accountability in Maryland.
They brought up the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary, who chairs the group, said she is worried about her own children.
"I also am obviously a Black woman raising three Black children...two of whom are boys and one of whom I'm very concerned about. He's only 8. He looks like he should be in middle school, and he could be threatening just to a smaller, skinny white officer who thinks he's older than he is—and doesn't understand his mental state because he is young. Just as I personally don't think that the officer in Wisconsin that just shot Jacob—murdered him in the back—understood how to handle that situation. And we all saw how that played out on TV," Del. Atterbeary (D-Howard County) said.
But those representing police officers worry some protections for police will be taken out of the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights (LEOBR), the law that outlines how officers are treated when facing allegations of wrongdoing.
"We seemingly find ourselves in a position where society seeks to apply a perfect metric to a police officer while apparently excusing— or at least mitigating—the behavior of the individual or individuals whose criminal actions drew law enforcement to the scene. Then, as it's been suggested, we expose these officers, their departments, and probably most importantly their families to the trash can of social media with a proposed mandated wholesale release of personnel investigative records—even when those investigations exonerate the officer and find their actions to be lawful and justified. This creates a segregated class for one specific employee group," said Chief David Morris of the Riverdale Park Police Department.
Baltimore County's Police Chief told the panel she has trouble recruiting.
"Police departments across the nation are all essentially sharing the same struggles. The pool of qualified candidates applying for careers in law enforcement is limited with multiple departments competing for a finite group of candidates. Experienced officers and commanders are retiring and resigning at increased rates raising concerns about adequate staffing and also the experienced leadership and—maybe more importantly—the proper supervision that is needed to meet today's challenges," Chief Melissa Hyatt said. "As leaders, we need to ensure that our officers are enforcing the law fairly and without bias and are held accountable if they don't. As conversation surrounding policy issues proceeds, the officers and all of our agencies are worried about whether they may be unfairly painted with a broad brush and whether they will be able to continue to do the difficult, dangerous job we ask them to do."
Lawmakers are pushing for more transparency about officers' records and civilian oversight.
In Baltimore City, where the Gun Trace Force scandal is still reverberating, the commissioner praised the progress he says has been made in reforming the department.
"I firmly believe we've come along way from where we were just a few short years ago," said BPD Commissioner Michael Harrison. "For example, when a victim believed—mistakenly as it turns out—that she may have been sexually assaulted by Baltimore police officers in their patrol car, I grounded nearly the entire fleet looking for evidence. And when, during a routine review of body-worn camera footage, we saw a sergeant assault and falsely arrest an individual, I personally ordered the pressing of criminal charges and had that officer arrested."
He also praised the BPD's response to protests after George's Floyd's death.
"Baltimore served as a contrast to other major cities that experienced much more destructive demonstrations—and a stark contrast to where we were in 2015 during the protests surrounding the death of Freddie Gray," Harrison said. "I know there are those who would argue nothing has changed, but I respectfully disagree. We are seeing major progress and it's due largely in part to the reforms we have enacted and the culture of accountability that we are instilling into this department."
On Thursday, the BPD announced a detective was suspended after assault and other charges stemming from arrests last year.
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