Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Friday evening vetoed police reform proposals intended to curtail deadly and excessive force, limit the use of no-knock warrants and make the police disciplinary process subject to greater civilian oversight.
The measures, however, passed both the Democratic-led Senate and House with sufficient votes to override the Republican governor’s veto. Votes to override are expected to occur before the General Assembly session ends Monday at midnight.
“These bills would undermine the goal that I believe we share of building transparent, accountable and effective law enforcement institutional and instead further erode police morale, community relationships and public confidence,” Hogan wrote in his veto message to the General Assembly.
“They will result in great damage to police recruitment and retention, posing significant risks to public safety throughout our state,” Hogan added. “Under these circumstances I have no choice but to uphold my primary responsibility to keep Marylanders safe – especially those that live in vulnerable communities most impacted by violent crime — and veto these bills.”
Sen. Jill P. Carter, a lead sponsor of the measures Hogan rejected, called the veto “regrettable.”
“The governor is out of touch with the majority of Marylanders,” Carter said, citing the protests that followed the deaths of Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody in 2015 and of George Floyd under the knee of an officer last May in Minneapolis.
“The integrity of the (policing) profession is in jeopardy” and the reform legislation “would restore that trust,” said Carter, a Baltimore Democrat.
The vetoed legislation would permit police to use lethal force only if “necessary” to save lives or prevent serious injury, a necessity standard that would be more stringent than the current one permitting deadly force if it is objectively reasonable under the circumstances. Less-than-deadly force would have to be necessary and proportional to the threat posed.
Republican opponents of the bill voiced concern that its tighter limits on officers’ use of force could result in innocent bloodshed as police might be hesitant to take forceful action for fear of being hauled before disciplinary authorities.
The bill also would have permitted no-knock warrants to be issued only with the approval of the local police chief and state’s attorney, in addition to the judge. In addition, no knock warrants could only be executed between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., except in exigent circumstances.
In addition, the bill would permit public access to completed internal police investigations, including those that find the complaints against the office unsubstantiated.
Supporters of the bill call it essential to public oversight of how law enforcement polices itself. Opponents said the disclosure of unsubstantiated complaints would needlessly damage the reputations of good officers because the public focuses on the complaint and not the ultimate exoneration.
Under the measure each police department’s custodian of the requested documents would retain discretion under the Maryland Public Information Act to deny the information request if disclosure would cause an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, interfere with an investigation, endanger a life or reveal a confidential source.
The measure would also reduce the strong internal protections for police in disciplinary proceedings by placing private citizens on charging boards and giving them greater say in bringing administrative charges and meting out sanctions on wayward officers.
Currently, the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights enables departments to investigate police misconduct internally and generally prohibits leadership from firing misbehaving officers unless they have been convicted of committing a felony, though suspensions with or without pay are available in cases of lesser malfeasance.
The General Assembly’s nearly session-long debate on police reform followed the Memorial Day death of Floyd, an unarmed Black man whose death was caught on video and sparked nationwide protests to make law enforcement more accountable.
The proposal to limit no-knock warrants followed the slaying in March 2020 of Breonna Taylor by Louisville, Kentucky, officers executing an overnight no-knock warrant at the Black woman’s apartment during a botched police raid.