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Baltimore police union: here’s why we should keep the officers’ bill of rights | COMMENTARY

Judge Emory Plitt, retired from the Harford County Circuit Court, conducts an advanced Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights (LEOBR) training session for internal affairs investigators at the Baltimore City Public Safety Training Center in 2018.
Judge Emory Plitt, retired from the Harford County Circuit Court, conducts an advanced Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights (LEOBR) training session for internal affairs investigators at the Baltimore City Public Safety Training Center in 2018. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge #3 has long been an advocate for reform within the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). In 2012, the FOP published a comprehensive report, the Blueprint for Improved Policing. The report called for many of the same reforms being publicly discussed now, such as increased and improved supervisor training, the end of stat-based policing, improved quality of background checks for applicants, support for officers living in the city, and the need for redistricting. In 2018, the FOP became the first police union in the state to approve civilians on officer trial boards. The FOP continues to push for improvements within the BPD, including a report in 2019 about the administrative mismanagement of the BPD and recommendations for improvements.

Recently, there has been a significant spread of misinformation about the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR). To set the record straight, the LEOBR, passed in 1974, codified the constitutional due process rights of law enforcement officers, as expressed in Supreme Court cases, like Garrity v. New Jersey (1967) and Gardner v. Broderick (1968). The Maryland General Assembly recognized the need to protect good cops from the potential harms of unreasonable investigation and persecution. Particularly, protection was needed from false and unwarranted complaints filed for monetary gain or as retribution in criminal cases; false complaints are rarely, if ever, prosecuted by the State’s Attorney’s Office, providing no disincentive to make them. The law protects minority officers from disparate treatment and protects the disciplinary process from political expediency, favoritism and retaliation. It ensures that officers who raise legitimate concerns about how a police agency is failing cannot be targeted and silenced by corrupt or incompetent police commanders.

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More than anyone else, the FOP wants to rid the BPD of corrupt cops who tarnish the profession we all love. The FOP did not provide support of any kind to the members of the Gun Trace Task Force. Despite public claims, nothing in the LEOBR prevents bad cops from being fired. The LEOBR ensures that officers cannot be disciplined on a whim and without evidence of wrongdoing. The LEOBR has no bearing on criminal investigations and applies to administrative matters only. Additionally, the LEOBR conveys no additional rights than those possessed by any other citizen and only applies those rights in the unique context of policing. As an example, no provisions of the bill prevented the rightful investigation and prosecution of the GTTF.

As a practical matter, there is simply no evidence that eliminating the LEOBR will improve public safety or increases accountability. Many other states have a LEOBR, but those states without one do not show increased levels of police legitimacy. Activists have failed to point out any specific provisions of the bill that prevent accountability. Eliminating the LEOBR will revert us to a time when internal politics and nepotism govern our police agencies. It will deepen the problems associated with the bad management that led to the circumstances of the GTTF, as even the Commission to Restore Public Trust in Policing placed blame for those crimes on managerial failures. The repeal of the LEOBR will create uncertainty for officers who have to make split-second decisions and make the disciplinary processes vulnerable to unaccountable meddling by police commanders. Discipline should be ruled by evidence and law, not politics and emotion. The LEOBR ensures that is the case.

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It is also important to note that the BPD already complies with many of the recommendations being proposed in Annapolis. Our Use of Force matrix is being considered as a statewide model. We long ago adopted the recommendations in Campaign Zero’s 8 Can’t Wait Campaign, which follows how eight policies to reduce police violence are implemented in cities. Furthermore, police shootings per capita have been decreasing nationwide since 2015. Eliminating the LEOBR will not address any of the underlying issues related to crime and violence in Baltimore that puts police officers in situations where force may be necessary. FOP members are citizens and community members who step forward to protect our city. We look forward to continuing the dialogue on real solutions that will hold bad cops accountable, protect good cops from overzealous prosecution, and keep all Baltimoreans safe.

Michael Mancuso is president of the Baltimore City FOP3. Robert Cherry is past president and chair of the National Fraternal Order of Police Legislative Committee. Elliot Cohen is state trustee of Baltimore City FOP3. They can be reached at info@fop3.org.

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