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‘A buffet of different provisions’: Council members Marks, Jones drafting new Baltimore County police reform bills

A Republican Baltimore County Council member is drafting new police reform legislation following the council’s recent vote to table a bill that would have banned chokeholds.

At the same time, Council member Julian Jones, an Owings Mills Democrat who proposed the shelved bill, is planning to introduce elements of his legislation as several smaller breakout bills.

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“It could be a buffet of different provisions,” County Council member David Marks, the Republican who represents the Towson area, said of possible legislation that could come out of his and Jones’ proposals. “The more choices the better.”

Jones, though, questioned why a new bill would be proposed when “everybody had an opportunity to come forward with any recommendations and suggestions they had” on the reform bill he announced in mid-June. Marks and a majority of the council voted to table Jones’ bill because of sweeping changes they said were being discussed among council members at the last minute.

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“This bill has been in the hands of every single council member and the [police] administration for two months,” said Jones, the council’s only Black member.

Marks has had several conversations with the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #4 to draft new reform measures, the key component being a chokehold ban, he said.

FOP President David Rose said he would opt to work with Marks, not Jones, on the former’s bill, but said that practices already employed by county police, like de-escalation training, should be added to police policy instead of codified into law.

Rose disagrees with banning chokeholds, the core goal at the heart of Marks’ and Jones’ prospective bills, and said situations in which police use a chokehold, which is not taught in county police training, should be reviewed by the county state’s attorney on a case-by-case basis.

Marks is considering in his draft bill other key elements of the reform legislation proposed by Jones, like whistleblower protection for an officer who reports another for misconduct and one that would have precluded county police from hiring a candidate with a demonstrated disciplinary record from another police department.

Marks also is working with the State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger on new amendments, he said. County Council member Tom Quirk, who moved to table Jones’ legislation, said he would consider signing on as a co-sponsor to Marks’ bill when it is introduced.

Demurring on indicating a position on a chokehold ban and other reform provisions, Quirk, a Democrat who represents the southwestern part of the county, said he is “open to everything,” but added all stakeholders, including the FOP, State’s Attorney’s Office and Baltimore County Police Administration, need to be involved in discussions.

According to draft amendments circulated among council members the day of the bill’s scheduled vote on Jones’ original bill and provided to Baltimore Sun Media, the State’s Attorney’s Office wanted a reform bill that would allow the police chief to make exceptions to hire officers with disciplinary records involving excessive use of force from other police departments; allow chokeholds when the officer determines it’s appropriate, and nix annual additional required training for police officers and a requirement for officers to use de-escalation tactics before physical force.

Marks said he voted to table police reform legislation proposed by Jones last week because “The public didn’t know what changes were being made” to the bill. “We could come up with better legislation [and] greater transparency,” he said.

That legislation was tabled during an Aug. 3 meeting because of what some members said was a lack of public input regarding draft amendments that were discussed privately among members in the days leading up to the vote.

The council’s legal counsel declined to share draft amendments that hesaid were not included in the public record because they were not formally proposed at the meeting, although Shellenberger’s draft changes are among the amendments.

There were “wholesale changes” to the bill being discussed privately “right up to the time of the vote,” Marks said. “That’s not very transparent. And some advocates for this bill would not have liked the final version.”

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Jones pushed back on the claim by several council members during the early August meeting that the bill was overloaded with an “untenable” number of amendments.

“I was always open to amendments. I continue to be open to compromise,” he said. “I think it’s clear to me what the people want.”

“The excuse of tabling was to avoid the real issues at hand,” said Ruben Amaya, an organizer with Baltimore County Youth Speaks, a group of young county residents who convened to support Jones’ bill.

Jones proposed the reforms after national outrage over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. The protests that followed have sparked widespread calls for police reform, including measures enacted by Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. in mid-June.

Acknowledging he had already conceded aspects of the bill during the county’s work session, Jones said the legislation up for a vote last week retained the core provisions he sought — a chokehold ban; a prohibition on hiring officers with records of misconduct from other police departments; requirements for officers to report when another officer uses physical force that injures an involved citizen; and whistleblower protection.

Jones plans to introduce in smaller, single-issue bills key provisions from his original legislation, including a chokehold ban, requiring officers use de-escalation techniques before force and whistleblower protection.

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