Why Police Accountability Died In Annapolis This Year

Apr 20, 2015

Advocates protesting in-custody deaths in Baltimore, like Tyrone West and Anthony Anderson, and the police shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo. wanted the Maryland General Assembly to hold officers more accountable. Bills doing that died in committees by the end of the session.
Credit P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR

Bills that city police watchdog groups favored to bring greater police accountability died in committees on the last day of the 2015 Maryland General Assembly session despite the momentum advocates had at the start of the session.

The advocates pointed to several local cases, like Tyrone West and Anthony Anderson, as well as national incidents, like Ferguson Mo. and New York City, to bolster their arguments.

One bill, proposed by Baltimore Senator Lisa Gladden, would have removed the so called "10 day rule" as well as the time limit on filing brutality complaints.  The bill would have also removed the right to a disciplinary hearing for any officer who is convicted or pleads guilty to a misdemeanor committed while on duty.  Officers already lose that right when convicted of a felony.  Delegate Jill Carter introduced a house version of the bill.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake proposed two of her own bills.  One bill would have created a new misconduct in office felony. Another bill concentrated on a provision similar to what Gladden proposed in taking away a right to a trial board.

Several other bills either stalled or were voted down in committee

Cause of death: lack of unity

Laura Hussey, associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, says several factors played into the failure of the bills including the number of bills being proposed.

"Activists need to have some sort of consensus around what's going to be a viable policy solution to this issue and I don't think that consensus is there yet," Hussey says.

Delegate Curt Anderson, chair of the city's Annapolis delegation, conceded as much in the waning days of the session.

"I don't think we offered a unified front; where we should have probably got together and said 'Hey, look; these are the bills that we really want to push and put pressure of legislative leaders to get passed," he says.

Another problem Hussey points out is the belief among other state legislators is that police accountability is only a problem in Baltimore City.

"Those in outlying areas maybe not so convinced that there's a problem with police brutality that needs to be reined in," she says, "they're afraid that they may be making big changes that will hurt areas where there aren't problems to help those where there is."

The perception of police accountability being a "Baltimore-only problem" appeared as Mayor Rawlings-Blake was in Annapolis March 10; testifying on behalf of her bill seeking to change the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights.

Frederick County Delegate Bill Folden, who sat on the House Appropriations Committee, said he did not see an outcry from people across the state over corrupt police officers.

"I understand there have been some issues with some Baltimore City officers that I'm familiar with that maybe supporting this," Folden said, "But, it appears that were looking to change a statewide [law] when it looks to be that maybe there's a local issue within Baltimore City that needs a little more administrative oversight."

Keeping the process intact

Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, agrees with advocates and elected officials that bad cops need to go but changing the officers' Bill of Rights is not the way to go.

"The bill of rights; everyone says it slows it down.  It doesn't slow it down, it just makes sure that the officer gets his due process," says Ryan who suggested the city police department make improvements internally within the agency.

While the officers' Bill of Rights will stay the same for now, attempts to change it may return again next year.  Del. Anderson says the delegation will work on a new, more united strategy for next year's session.

"[The strategy] will have all of our bills kind of interlocked so that we can push this agenda a lot stronger than we did this year," says Anderson.