The Maryland Court of Special Appeals said in a 2011 judgment that a driver could not be charged for fleeing and eluding a law enforcement officer if that officer was in an unmarked car with lights or sirens.
Del Neil Parrott, R-Washington, said Tuesday that he will file a bill that seeks to clarify the issue so that those fleeing such a vehicle can be criminally charged.
Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington, has filed a similar bill in the State Senate.
“If they (law enforcement officers) need to pull someone over, they want to make sure that the law backs them up,” Parrott said explaining the bill.
The bill makes the provision, Parrott said, that those uncomfortable with an unmarked car could go to a “well-lighted” area where they could pull over or drive to a nearest police station.
The same bill was introduced in the 2012 session by Parrott was withdrawn because he said there wasn’t enough time for it to pass both chambers of the legislature.
A similar bill last year, introduced in the Senate by Sen. James Robey, D-Howard, did not get a favorable report from the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Maj. Sam Billotti of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said that because of the court ruling, officers in unmarked police cars have to call a marked police vehicle for assistance.
“It has changed the behavior of officers,” Billotti said, alluding to the court opinion.
The Maryland State Police was in favor of the bill that was introduced by Robey in the 2012 regular session of the General Assembly.
“Senate Bill 254 attempts to reconcile the gap left behind by the recent judicial determination and defines in statute the equipment and demarcations that when present on an ‘unmarked’ police behind sufficiently characterizes the patrol car as an official police vehicle,” said a letter from the MSP supporting the bill last year. “The bill makes clear the expectations of police for the public at large as to the tangible characteristics that readily identifies one as a police officer.”
The letter stated that when a suspect is trying to flee or elude an officer, everyone in the immediate area is in danger.
The Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, the Baltimore County Police Department and the Maryland Transportation Authority supported the bill introduced by Robey.
A letter of support from the Baltimore County Police Department said that the legislature needs to clarify the definition of an “official police vehicle”
“An officer not being able to effect a traffic stop would create a danger to the general public when a suspect knows that he or she can run from the police and not face any charges for fleeing from an officer,” the letter said.