A Senate committee has killed a bill that would have given police powers to investigators in the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office, a move the city's top prosecutor sought to improve investigations of police misconduct.
The legislation was one of a slate of proposals State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby put forward last fall that were aimed at helping her office better investigate and prosecute officers accused of misconduct. Mosby cited the failure to convict any officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray as motivation.
"That bill's not going anywhere," said Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee. "We're not going to create a special police force for a state's attorney."
The Baltimore prosecutors' office employs 11 investigators, seven of whom are retired police officers. The bill would allow them to carry guns, make arrests, serve search and seizure warrants and perform other law enforcement functions.
Melba Saunders, spokesperson for the State's Attorney's Office, said in a statement, "Baltimore City should be afforded the same autonomy and opportunity to utilize our current investigative resources as effectively as our counterparts not only in other major urban cities across the country, but in other jurisdictions in Maryland such as Dorchester, Garrett and Talbot counties, all of which are already authorized to hire criminal investigators with police powers."
Mosby's chief lobbyist told Zirkin's committee last month that in most cases the expanded powers would merely save time by allowing prosecutors to move forward without having to contact police or the sheriff's office.
"This legislation provides Baltimore City with a cost-effective way to reduce the burden on law enforcement while improving my office's ability to investigate and prosecute crimes," Mosby said in written testimony in support of the bill. "We already have the staff and resources in place to successfully implement this legislation."
Mosby's office said it conducted an independent investigation into Gray's death, but said police investigators refused to perform tasks and had inherent conflicts investigating fellow officers.
Zirkin said the bill would create a police force accountable only to Mosby and questioned what would happen if one of her officers was accused of misconduct. He said the legislation would create a "super unaccountable police force."
The bill had the support of Baltimore's legislators and would only apply only to the city. At a hearing last month, Sen. Michael J. Hough, a Carroll County Republican, said legislators there quashed a similar bill being sought by Carroll prosecutors.
"There's separation of powers, and that helps prevent abuse of power. To me, we're eroding that by giving more powers to one agency, and that could lead to more potential abuse," Hough said at the hearing.