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Baltimore County councilman seeks limits on ‘no-knock’ warrants in latest push for police reform

Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones is proposing seven pieces of police reform legislation that will be reviewed by the council on September 29.
Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones is proposing seven pieces of police reform legislation that will be reviewed by the council on September 29. (Pamela Wood)

Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones is introducing legislation that would restrict “no knock” warrants — among other changes — in his second attempt at police reforms after the council shelved an earlier legislative package.

Police use these warrants to enter homes without announcing their presence to prevent the destruction of evidence, such as drug stashes or child pornography. Jones wants to limit the use of those warrants to tactical units, situations involving child safety, domestic violence or terrorism, and instances where there’s “reasonable suspicion” that announcing one’s presence would put the officer’s life at risk.

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The proposal comes after Louisville, Kentucky, police used a warrant to enter Breonna Taylor’s apartment in March because it was suspected that her ex-boyfriend used her home to stash drugs. Taylor was fatally shot by officers, and her ex-boyfriend recently told the Louisville Courier-Journal that police used misleading and wrong information to obtain the warrant.

Taylor’s death, along with George Floyd’s death after being pinned by an officer’s knee on his neck in May in Minneapolis, sparked global protests. Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, and County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt responded to the outcry by launching measures requiring officers to report unnecessary use of force.

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Jones, a Democrat and the council’s only Black member, has tried to pass legislation banning chokeholds and requiring officers to intervene when officers use unjust force. However, the County Council in August voted 4-3 to table the bill after Councilman Tom Quirk, a Democrat, said he wanted to see a statewide law passed instead.

Republican council members Todd Crandell and David Marks, along with Democratic Council Chair Cathy Bevins, also voted to table the bill due to concerns with last-minute amendments that weren’t reviewed by the public.

Jones said he’s proposing seven bills that maintain “the heart of the original legislation.” New language in the bills would limit when and how officers are allowed to place people on the ground during an arrest, particularly to protect minors and pregnant women from harm. He also wants the council to receive reports on police misconduct lawsuits in the county.

The smaller bills would require a chokehold ban, whistleblower protections, bias and de-escalation training, and hiring bans on officers who previously resigned or were fired due to disciplinary proceedings.

Additionally, Jones’ bills also would require officers to provide or call for medical aid in certain circumstances. Officers would be required to call on mental health professionals for help, among other de-escalation tactics.

Democratic Del. Benjamin Brooks of Baltimore County and several other supporters said Friday that Jones’ bills are focused on accountability rather than “anti-police” politics. Claire Landers, with Jews United for Justice, said residents “rightly fear more names will be added” to the list of people killed by officers until police are required to adhere to more than “their own ethics.”

Marks said he’s also proposing reform legislation to give the county “a buffet of different provisions” to choose from.

Jones’ bills have received opposition from Hyatt, the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #4, and State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger.

Marks said he’s working with Shellenberger on legislation, and Quirk said he would consider signing on as a co-sponsor to Marks’ bill when it’s introduced. FOP President David Rose also said he would work with Marks.

The County Council is scheduled to review Jones’ bills during its virtual meeting on Sept. 29, a week before the vote on Oct. 5.

In the meantime, the county’s youth leaders have criticized county leadership for not codifying reforms into law this summer.

“We can no longer let this cycle go on,” said Joshua Muhumuza, a Dundalk High senior and the student member of the Baltimore County Board of Education.

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“The unfortunate reality is that after 361 years since this county’s founding, we have failed to reform and dismantle oppressive and racist systems in this county,” said Noureen Badwi, with Baltimore County Youth Speaks.

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