State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, the Democratic nominee for Baltimore mayor, says she wants the General Assembly to strengthen a law that allows civilians to serve on panels that hear cases against police officers accused of misconduct.
The law, which takes effect Oct. 1, allows civilians to join the internal police trial boards for the first time, if police unions agree.
Supporters of the law say including civilians is necessary to hold officers accountable for misconduct. But some unions are resisting.
In next year's General Assembly session, Pugh said, she plans to push for legislation that would allow civilians to serve on a trial board without the approval of the local lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.
"I know the FOP will not be happy with that," Pugh told an audience of nearly 100 on Tuesday evening at the United Evangelical Church in Canton. "But until we allow participation by individuals who live in our communities, we will not get the coordination that we need."
Trial boards, composed now of three police officers, act as an internal court system for officers accused of wrongdoing. A trial board can recommend an officer be fired, suspended or docked leave, but the police commissioner has final say.
Civilians have been prohibited from serving on the panels under the state Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights
But the General Assembly approved legislation this year — pushed by Pugh, among others — that allows local governments to add specially trained civilians to the trial boards, subject to the agreement of police unions in certain jurisdictions, including Baltimore. Up to two civilians with full voting rights may be added to the trial boards.
Across the country, civilians have been given a greater role in reviewing alleged police misconduct. Washington, Chicago and Detroit all give civilians authority in disciplining officers.