ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — A series of police reform bills passed the committee hurdle in the Maryland Senate Thursday.

“Change is necessary,” Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson said. “We must get (police reform) done this year and we will.”

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SB 626 would create criminal penalties for officers who intentionally use excessive force, punishable by 10 years in prison. It also creates a duty to intervene if an officer sees misconduct and requires aid be rendered if someone is injured by police.

“This is a critical step in reshaping and changing a culture of silence that happens too much within law enforcement,” Sen. Jill Carter, a Democrat from Baltimore City, said. “Is the package that we passed perfect? No. Is it the most comprehensive reform that we’ve ever done? Yes.”

“Anton’s Law,” SB 178, passed the Judicial Proceedings Committee without Republican support. It would make law enforcement misconduct and disciplinary records accessible through the state’s Public Information Act. They are currently protected as personnel records and exempt from disclosure.

“To take claims that are basically false on police and put that out to the public, I just don’t think that’s fair to our officers,” Minority Whip Sen. Michael Hough (R-District 4) said. Hough said he hopes amendments can be added to the bill on the Senate floor.

Bills prohibiting military surplus equipment, expanding mental health services for officers, mandating independent investigations for police-involved deaths, and mandating body-worn cameras statewide passed committee unanimously.

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Bills passing with a level of bipartisan support include a ban on no-knock warrants and a repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR).

A bill returning control of the Baltimore Police Department from the state back to the city is expected to pass committee next week, according to committee member Sen. Charles Sydnor, a Democrat from Baltimore County.

There is no indication from Gov. Hogan on his position regarding any specific police reform bills.

Bills passed by the committee include:

  • SB 599: Prohibition of military surplus equipment
  • SB 74: Expanding mental health services for officers
  • SB 600: Independent investigations for police-involved deaths (passed with unanimous support)
  • SB 71: Requiring activation of body-worn cameras (passed with unanimous support)
  • SB 419: Curtailing no-knock warrants (passed with bipartisan support)
  • SB 627: Repealing LEOBR (passed with bipartisan support)
  • SB 626: Establishing safer police interactions (use of force standards and criminal penalties when officers use excessive force and a duty to intervene and report misconduct) (passed with bipartisan support)
  • SB 178: Transparency in law enforcement (Allowing discipline files to be publically accessible) (passed on a party-line vote with no GOP support)

Senate Bill 786, which would transfer control of the Baltimore Police Department to the city, is not out of committee yet, but Sydnor believes it will be next week.

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Paul Gessler