ANNAPOLIS — Advocates of increasing police accountability in Maryland said Thursday that now is the time to push for reforms.
Supporters of a variety of measures before lawmakers say protests around the nation against killings of unarmed black men by police in New York and Ferguson, Missouri, have brought concerns about police misconduct to the forefront of the public’s attention.
Marion Gray-Hopkins, whose son Gary, 19, was shot to death by a Prince George’s County police officer outside a firehouse dance in Lanham Hills in 1999, said she came to Annapolis on behalf of her family and mothers nationwide who are tired of police brutality.
“It’s been going on for decades, and now with the visibility ... it’s time to at least ... try to make a change,” Gray-Hopkins said.
She wore a button with her son’s picture and the words “stop police brutality.”
One measure would abolish a rule preventing a Maryland officer suspected of a crime from being interrogated for up to 10 days after an incident. The bill also would end a requirement that claims of police brutality be filed within 90 days.
Supporters said the two rules in the state’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights place added burdens on victims of police brutality.
“The overwhelming majority of police will never be affected by the changes we seek because they are geared towards bad cops, and we are not trying to take away any protection or privilege of police officers,” said Ryan Dennis, a coordinator for the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Equality. “These bills simply adjust the procedures and remove some of the barriers for holding police accountable.”
Vince Canales, president of the Maryland State Fraternal Order of Police, said he opposes the bill because it would gut officer protections that have been in place for nearly 40 years.
“This is just basically a due process right,” Canales said.
Another bill would create specific requirements for law enforcement officers who wear body cameras to create uniformity in their use. It says officers who are given a body camera to wear while on duty would have to activate audio and visual recordings when responding to a call for service or beginning a law enforcement or investigative encounter between the officer and a member of the public.
“It says if you’re going to use it, you’ve got to follow certain standards,” said Sen. Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George’s. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in Baltimore city or Prince George’s County or the Eastern Shore or Western Maryland. Everyone should be held to this standard.”
A separate bill would enable the state prosecutor to investigate the death of someone because of the action of a law enforcement officer. The state prosecutor would be able to investigate if the state’s attorney for the jurisdiction where the person died doesn’t seek a grand jury indictment.