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General Assembly overrides Hogan’s veto, enacts police reforms

"What we are doing today is taking a step forward to creating greater public safety where every single member of our community feels safe,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, said Saturday of his vote to override the veto. (The Daily Record/ File Photo)

“What we are doing today is taking a step forward to creating greater public safety where every single member of our community feels safe,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, said Saturday of his vote to override the veto. (The Daily Record/ File Photo)

The Maryland General Assembly on Saturday overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto and enacted 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 Senate and House of Delegate’s votes followed nationwide protests of police brutality that followed the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.

“What we are doing today is taking a step forward to creating greater public safety where every single member of our community feels safe,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, said Saturday of his vote to override the veto. “We’re not there but, with this framework, we can get there.”

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, agreed with the legislature’s desire to hold police officers accountable but said the Democratic-led Senate and House proposals went too far.

“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 Friday 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.”

The new law enacted over Hogan’s veto permits 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 provision voiced concern Saturday 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 consequence of a bill like this, in my opinion, will force law enforcement officers to step back and stand down in situations that a reasonable personable would want them to act,” said House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke, R-Anne Arundel. “While I do support police reform, I think the bill before us simply goes too far and puts the lives of innocent civilians, law enforcement and other at risk.”

On the Senate side, Sen. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford, said the new use of force standard “allows for hindsight review of folks sitting in their easy chairs to judge those who made split-second decisions in volatile situations where the officers fears for his or her life and the lives of others at the time force was used.”

Sen. Cory McCray, D-Baltimore, countered that “split-second decision are not just for the officer but for the person that is on the other side of that officer.”

The new law also permits 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.

The provision followed nationwide protests over 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.

Sen. Justin Ready, R-Carroll, said he agrees with the sentiment that police would benefit from more training and accountability. But law enforcement should not be hamstrung by limiting the execution of no-knock warrants to “business hours” because criminals do not keep to such a timetable, Ready said.

“This is going to put our constituents in danger,” he added.

Cassilly said the daylight limit on no-knock warrants will “give the bad guys a period of refuge” overnight. “We’re going to give them a little solace there.”

The new law also permits public access to completed internal police investigations, including those inquiries that find the complaints against the officer unsubstantiated. Under the measure, each police department’s custodian of the requested documents retains 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.

Supporters of public access called it essential to public oversight of how law enforcement polices itself.

“A culture of secrecy … will now have a light shined on them,” said Sen. Shelly Hettleman, D-Baltimore County.

But opponents said disclosure of unsubstantiated complaints would needlessly damage the reputations of good officers because the public focuses on the complaint and not the ultimate exoneration.

“This bill is just anti-cop,” Cassilly said. “This is just a nasty bill.”

The new law also reduces 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.

Sen. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick and Carroll, said the provision’s call for local civilian oversight in each of Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore city establishes “a complex bureaucracy” that will “create disparities” in discipline depending on which county or city the officer patrols.

But Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery, said the civilian oversight provision makes the new law will restore trust in the police.

The enacted legislation comprised Senate Bills 71 and 178 and House Bill 670.

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