Police Accountability Measure Gets First Hearing in Maryland - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Police Accountability Measure Gets First Hearing in Maryland

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Supporters of increasing police accountability in Maryland called on Tuesday for changes to make legislation stronger than a lengthy measure now before lawmakers. Opponents from the Fraternal Order of Police said the bill is flawed and won't solve the problems supporters want to address.
    
Before a bill hearing, a coalition of civil rights activists wore yellow tape with the word "Caution" on it - like police tape at a crime scene - highlighting their longstanding concerns about police brutality.
    
The measure would make changes to the state's Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights. It also addresses hiring, training and whistleblower protections. Supporters in Baltimore, where rioting broke out after Freddie Gray died last year in police custody, say decades of overaggressive policing in the city demand strong action from lawmakers.
    
"Decades of abuse and oppressive tactics have installed a fear of consequence, and we must carefully scrutinize every action we make," said Ray Kelly, a community organizer in Baltimore's Sandtown neighborhood where Gray lived.  Established protections for officers, he added, have created a situation "where they can do whatever, whenever and wherever they want without any fear of consequence."
    
"The Officer Friendly we were introduced to as children is only a memory for those who were born in the 1900s," Kelly said.
    
Representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police opposed provisions in the bill that they contend would hurt law enforcement. They defended the bill of rights, also known as LOEBR, before the House Judiciary Committee hearing.
    
"We stand here today to tell you there is no problem - that the LOEBR works, has worked, continues to work ... That being said, we realize the committee feels the need to do something, and we applaud your efforts to reach out to us and involve us in the process," Frank Boston, a lobbyist for the Maryland FOP, told the committee.
    
Some of the main changes to the LOEBR would extend the time residents can file a complaint against police from 90 days to a year and a day. Another change would limit the time a police officer can take to retain an attorney for internal investigations from 10 days to five. The changes apply to internal police investigations, not criminal investigations against police.
    
The measure is based on more than 20 recommendations made by a panel of lawmakers formed days after the rioting in Baltimore. Lawmakers had considered more than a dozen police accountability bills last year, but many of them failed in the 90-day session, which ended about a week before Gray's death.
    
Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat who co-chaired the legislative workgroup, said lawmakers decided to make one comprehensive bill this year.
    
"This bill takes a more comprehensive approach in the sense that it goes from the beginning to the end," Anderson said, noting it includes changes to police hiring and training, as well as whistleblower protection specific to police.
    
David Rose, second vice president for the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, said the FOP supports whistleblower protections. But he said the bill isn't specific enough about what constitutes various abuses, and the FOP supports a measure with greater detail.
    
Herb Weiner, an FOP attorney, said the group opposes a provision to open police disciplinary hearings to the public. He said opening the hearings could compromise the identities of undercover police.
    
"At the end of the day, instead of addressing the problems themselves directly, we're actually attempting to create something that's going to have impact on that 95 or 90 percent of those officers out here who are doing a great job," said Vince Canales, president of the Maryland FOP.
 

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