State lawmakers' plans to boost police accountability and transparency took shape Monday as a task force approved 22 recommendations aimed at restoring trust in law enforcement.
Democratic leaders in the Maryland General Assembly will push a bill that would grant more rights to victims of police brutality, roll back special rights given to police accused of wrongdoing, create a unified complaint system for tracking problem officers and allow the public to watch police disciplinary boards.
"What we've done here, it's monumental," said Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat and co-chair of the Public Safety and Policing Work Group that developed the recommendations.
"We have opened up a process that has been closed and secret in this state."
In the wake of riots that followed Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch promised legislation to improve policing.
On Monday, the task force they appointed revealed what will become the basis of an omnibus policing reform bill introduced after the legislature convenes Wednesday.
A lobbyist for the state's police union said that while his group respected the task force's work, it did not support the recommendations.
"At this point we remain opposed to any and all changes," said Frank Boston III, the lobbyist for the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police.
The bipartisan panel suggested three changes to the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, a state law known by its acronym, LEOBR, which affords protections to officers under investigation for misconduct.
The group suggested cutting in half the time officers can wait before speaking to investigators, from 10 days to five. Under the task force's proposal, victims of police brutality would have a year to file a complaint — four times longer than under current law — and be guaranteed an investigation. And in addition to opening all police trial boards to public scrutiny, the group proposed striking down a state law that prevents citizens from serving on those boards.
Separately, the task force recommended new whistle-blower protections for officers who help internal investigations or raise concerns about colleagues' conduct.
"People in the community want to feel like if they're lodging a concern about law enforcement that it will actually be followed up on," said Del. Antonio Hayes, a Baltimore Democrat.
Many of the recommendations concern a training commission that lawmakers want to become an independent agency with wide-ranging authority. The Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission would take on the role of creating uniform standards for hiring, training, punishing and helping officers.
That commission would be in charge of mandatory, periodic mental health evaluations for police officers. It would also require each jurisdiction to create a "non-punitive, early intervention policy" to deal with officers who receive three or more citizen complaints in a year. And it would oversee annual reporting of police-involved shootings and other "serious officer-involved incidents," something that isn't currently tracked.
The task force also said the state should set aside cash to encourage officers to live in the communities they police, and to establish programs that pair cops and kids in athletic leagues or other community organizations.
The proposals fell short of what some advocates were hoping lawmakers would enact this year. The Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, CASA de Maryland and the state's NAACP chapter, released a statement calling Monday's recommendations "an important start."
"There remain important areas that need improvement to ensure real accountability, especially in communities targeted by racially biased over-policing," the group said, pointing to laws that require people who complain about police to identify themselves and limit who can investigate brutality complaints.
Legislative aides said all of the recommendations would be included in the bill sponsored by the two presiding officers of the legislature. A spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan declined to comment on the plan.