Opinion: Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Sound Alarm on Reform Plan

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It is with significant concern for the safety and welfare of the residents of Maryland, whom our law enforcement officers serve with honor and distinction each day, that we write. The Maryland Police Chiefs (MCPA) and Maryland Sheriffs’ Associations (MSA) have remained engaged with members of the Maryland Legislature offering constructive thoughts, suggestions and amendments for over a year, in fact for many years, in an effort to meet the mutual objectives of achieving more extensive and meaningful law enforcement accountability and transparency.

These discussions have been extensive and addressed many different areas involving law enforcement in Maryland. The Maryland chiefs and sheriffs remain fully engaged in the process to bring about meaningful solutions to improve the profession, while remaining responsive to the needs of the communities we serve.

The chiefs and the sheriffs have the honor, the privilege, and the responsibility of leading the
16,000 troopers, police officers, and deputy sheriffs, who selflessly and courageously sacrifice
every day in service to their communities. These brave law enforcement officers perform a service that many won’t do and even more cannot do, and daily they work hard to earn and frankly deserve our collective support and respect. Equally important is maintaining fundamental fairness and due process rights, of the officers, deputies, and troopers as they work each day to keep our communities safe.

The MCPA and the MSA have worked diligently to be a positive part of the legislative process,
but that process has now reached a point where many of the policing related bills currently before the legislature simply lead to our communities being less safe. Of deep concern to the chiefs and sheriffs is that crime victims are simply being ignored within this legislative process. Regrettably, these victims are often representative of at risk communities that are in need of timely, responsive, caring and professional law enforcement services. The result of much of the legislation about to be enacted as law will not lead to such.

For instance, House Bill 670 repeals the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights (LEOBR) with the expectation of providing for greater accountability. In reality, HB 670 actually leaves a void where the small percentage of officers involved in unprofessional behavior will be
less accountable for their actions. By repealing the LEOBR without providing a well thought out, legally sound replacement, law enforcement agencies will be left without measures providing accountability and without a means to discipline in an appropriate and meaningful manner.

Essentially, agencies will be left to create their own disparate procedures for internal discipline.

This leads to less accountability, the exact opposite of what is being sought in this legislation, and the suggestions offered by the chiefs and sheriffs to streamline the disciplinary process were largely ignored. House Bill 670 also eliminates the sheriffs and chiefs in the administrative disciplinary process of their employees to include reviewing investigative findings, placing charges for administrative violations, having the authority to apply sanctions or the right to schedule a trial board for an administrative hearing.

Imagine owning a company and not being permitted to be involved in one of the most important measures maintaining accountability and discipline. The end result would be having a chief executive without the authority to hold employees accountable.

In addition, proposed legislation contradicts established case law from the United States Supreme Court providing for the lawful application of the use of force. These changes compromise the safety of our law enforcement officers throughout the state, the same officers who took an oath to protect and defend the communities we serve. We have already witnessed an increase of unprovoked attacks on law enforcement officers nationwide, and this legislation ultimately may lead to more injuries or deaths of our officers, deputies and troopers.

The MCPA and the MSA agree that changes are needed, but they must not come from an emotional rush to judgment. Meaningful, positive, substantive change can only be achieved through well measured thought and deliberation with concern for all those effected. The chiefs and sheriffs have continued to work towards effective, meaningful solutions to increasing trust, transparency, accountability, and equity in all of our communities, but unfortunately believe House Bill 670 will create public policy that makes our communities and our officers less safe.

— JOHN NEWNAN

The writer is executive director of the Maryland Chiefs of Police and the Maryland Sheriffs’ Associations.