House Speaker Adrienne Jones and House Democrats are calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to immediately implement a number of police reforms through executive orders.
Jones has already called for a work group to begin looking at ways to reform law enforcement and the use of force in advance of the 2021 session. In the Senate, Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery and chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, has announced he will draft legislation on similar issues.
“However, you have the power with the stroke of your pen to begin this process today,” Jones and nearly 100 Democratic delegates wrote in a letter to Hogan.
Jones and the caucus called on Hogan to issue a ban on police chokeholds and immediately revise the standard for the use of deadly force to situations in which there is the “imminent threat of death or seriously bodily injury to the officer.”
The letter was delivered to the governor after noon on Tuesday.
“While several of these policies are already implemented by our state police agencies, we will certainly give thoughtful consideration to the speaker’s letter, as well as the conclusions and recommendations of the work group she has established to examine these serious issues,” said Shareese Churchill, a Hogan spokeswoman.
A number of the policies are already in effect within the Maryland State Police, said Churchill.
Included in those is a “Blue Team” system that tracks complaints against officers and allows for a follow-up when there are multiple complaints against an individual. Additionally, state police policies prohibit shooting from or at a moving vehicle unless it is being used as a deadly weapon.
The department also reports use of force data, has a use of force policy and has an implicit bias training program, she said.
The order, as proposed by Jones and her caucus, would also require other officers to intervene in situations in which the use of force is excessive.
“The past three weeks have exposed what some of us have known for years: that enforcement of our laws has not yielded equal justice for all Marylanders,” Jones and Democrats wrote in their letter to Hogan. “Policing in our country is broken. While we have taken some important steps together with you – most notably passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act – we have not done enough to fix policing in Maryland.”
The order should also include the creation of an “early warning system” that flags officers involved in excessive incidents of use of force and retrains the officer. The Democrats’ letter also calls for a ban on the practice of shooting at vehicles unless the vehicle is being used as a deadly weapon and calls for officers to be required to sign a “sanctity of life” pledge showing respect for human life.
Jones, in the letter, notes that Hogan’s order would apply to roughly 18 state-controlled police agencies.
The speaker, the first African American and first woman to preside over either the Maryland House of Delegates or the Senate, announced two weeks ago the creation of a work group to look at police accountability issues. The group would make recommendations for legislation for the 2021 session.
The effort comes in the wake of the police custody death of George Floyd in Minnesota as well as a number of highly publicized deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement officers.
A number of other jurisdictions are also looking at possible changes to policing amid calls of defunding and even abolishing police departments. Money from those programs would be shifted to re-envisioned crime fighting strategies as well as social needs including housing and education.
The Baltimore City Council approved more than $22 million in cuts to the Baltimore City Police Department’s $550 million budget. Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young would have to veto the cuts in order for them to stand. Young said he will not countermand the cuts.
On Tuesday, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said she would ask the Prince George’s County Council to allow her to shift $20 million earmarked for a public safety training facility. The money would go to build a health facility to address mental health and addiction.
“I believe we have to address injustices in policing in our communities, but I also believe that if we only focus on policing, we will have missed an opportunity for meaningful change,” said Alsobrooks. “I believe this moment in history also requires us to look at the social injustices that have harmed the African-American community for centuries, like disparities in health care and education, and work toward reform in those areas as well.”