Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh on Tuesday called for a statewide standard on the use of police force, sharp limits on the use of no-knock warrants, a ban on police use of military weapons and the creation of a database of police misconduct to ensure bad Maryland officers cannot hide from their past.
Frosh issued his comments in a written statement providing general support for police reform bills before the Maryland General Assembly that were largely spurred by the in-custody Memorial Day death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, which led to nationwide protests last spring and summer.
“Central to achieving meaningful police reform is ending the use of excessive force,” Frosh said. “First, the state should codify a standard that restricts the use of force to that which is objectively reasonable and appears to be necessary under the circumstances in response to the threat or resistance by a subject. Similarly, deadly force – including the use of chokeholds – should only be used where objectively reasonable and necessary to protect the officer or other persons from the imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.”
In addition to Floyd’s death, the slaying in March of Breonna Taylor by Louisville, Kentucky, police officers executing an overnight no-knock warrant at the Black woman’s apartment has spurred proposals in the General Assembly to end or sharply curtail the practice of police getting judicial permission to enter a person’s home without first announcing their presence.
Supporters of no-knock warrants call them necessary to prevent suspected criminals inside from destroying evidence, such as illegal drugs, before the police enter.
But Frosh said no-knock warrants should be sought only if necessary to protect the safety of the executing police officers and only if the warrant request is supported by the local state’s attorney.
“Finally, I think we should look at the time at which warrants like these are served – a factor which clearly contributed to Breonna Taylor’s death – and limit service of middle of the night warrants to situations in which the risks to the public and to the police associated with them are truly warranted,” Frosh said.
The attorney general, who as a state senator sponsored Maryland’s 2013 law banning assault-style firearms, said police should similarly be restricted in their use of high-powered weapons generally reserved for the military, such as grenade launchers and armored and weaponized vehicles and aircraft.
“We must curtail the growing militarization of police,” Frosh said.
“In this country, we are supposed to have a clear separation between military and civilian law enforcement,” he added. “Studies show that the purchase of this type of equipment results in an increase in SWAT deployment, increase in community distrust, and increase in police violence with no corresponding decrease in violent crime.”
The attorney general said Maryland is no stranger to controversial police-involved slayings, citing the 2018 Eastern Shore death of Anton Black, an unarmed 19-year-old Black man while handcuffed and prone in Caroline County. The state later discovered that one of the involved officers, Thomas Webster IV of Greensboro, had a record of violent and inappropriate conduct in earlier law enforcement jobs.
“In Maryland, we have experience with law-enforcement officers who are fired from a law enforcement agency and hired by another law enforcement agency without knowledge of the circumstances of that firing,” Frosh said. “So, in my view, we need to find a way – without harming law-abiding officers who have frivolous allegations made against them – to create greater public accountability for those officers who are terminated from their jobs because of misconduct or who routinely engage in misconduct.”
The attorney general also called for all police departments to have and use body-worn cameras, saying they are “critical to ensuring heightened transparency and accountability around policing.”
Frosh said he and Maryland legislators pressing for police reform this year share “guiding principles,” if not specifics, regarding excessive force, no-knock warrants, notification of police misconduct and use of body cameras.
“Policies implementing these principles would help prevent horrific outcomes, remove people who should not be in law enforcement, and support the majority of police officers who perform difficult jobs responsibly,” Frosh said.