Maryland lawmakers voted Saturday to override Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes of three far-reaching police reform measures that supporters say are needed to increase accountability and restore public trust.
One of the measures repeals job protections in the police disciplinary process that critics say impede accountability. Maryland approved the nation’s first Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights in 1974, and about 20 states have adopted similar laws setting due process procedure for investigating police misconduct. Maryland is the first to repeal the law, replacing it with new procedures that give civilians a role in the police disciplinary process.
The Democrat-controlled General Assembly has been working on reforms for months, following nationwide protests against racial injustice that were fueled by the police custody death of George Floyd in Minnesota nearly one year ago.
“Last year, I attended and participated in multiple demonstrations of people demanding change — the young and the old, people of all races and walks of life," said Sen. Charles Sydnor, a Democrat who sponsored one of the measures. "With so many situations being thrust before our eyes, we could no longer deny what we see, and I thank my colleagues for believing their eyes and listening to the majority of Marylanders.”
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Opponents said the measures went too far. The package includes provisions to increase the civil liability limit on lawsuits involving police from $400,000 to $890,000. An officer convicted of causing serious injury or death through excessive force would face 10 years in prison.
Sen. Robert Cassilly, a Republican, described the legislation as “anti-cop.”
“It allows for hindsight review of folks sitting in the easy chairs to judge people who made split-second decisions in volatile situations," when an officer fears for his or her life and the lives of others, Cassilly said.
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Hogan also vetoed legislation with a new statewide use-of-force policy and mandated use of body cameras statewide by July 2025.
Another vetoed measure would expand public access to records in police disciplinary cases and limit the use of no-knock warrants. Under the bill, police could only use no-knock warrants between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., except in an emergency.
In his veto message, Hogan wrote that he believed the measures would “further erode police morale, community relationships, and public confidence.”
“They will result in great damage to police recruitment and retention, posing significant risks to public safety throughout our state,” Hogan wrote.
But Sen. Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, said erosion of public confidence occurs when nothing is done after residents file complaints against police, who are “then able to exact retaliation for the complaint with full knowledge that there'll be no transparency, there'll be no public disclosure, and there'll be no repercussions."
“It's a critically important step in the right direction,” said Carter, who sponsored the bill to increase public access to police disciplinary records.
The measure is named after Anton Black, a 19-year-old African American who died in police custody in 2018 in a rural town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Maryland has struggled with police accountability problems in recent years. Baltimore’s police department entered into a federal consent decree after Freddie Gray suffered a broken neck in police custody and died, sparking unrest in the city in 2015. Lawmakers approved some police reforms the following year, but critics have said they were not enough.
Hogan wrote that two measures would go into effect without his signature.
One of them would create a unit in the attorney general’s office to investigate police-involved deaths and prohibit law enforcement from buying surplus military equipment. The other would enable Baltimore voters to decide whether the state’s largest city should take full control of the police department from the state.
Separately on Saturday, the legislature also overrode Hogan's veto of a bill that will ban sentences of life in prison without possibility of parole for juveniles.