Police leaders decry Md. reform laws set to go into effect July 1

"It's like playing a game and telling the players after it’s over what the rules are," said Sheriff Joe Gamble


By Suzie Ziegler 

EASTON, Md. — Police reforms set to go into effect July 1 in Maryland have local law enforcement leaders worried, the Star Democrat reported this week. The concerns center on new policies about use of force and officer misconduct investigations, the report said. 

The Police Reform and Accountability Act of 2021 was passed last year after state legislature successfully overrode two vetoes by Gov. Larry Hogan, the report said. Hogan had worried the bill would make police discipline less consistent, undermine police leaders and infringe on due process for officers. Some law enforcement leaders agree. 

Baltimore city police instructors speak to police trainees during defense tactic training, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in Baltimore.
Baltimore city police instructors speak to police trainees during defense tactic training, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

Sheriff Joe Gamble of Talbot County says the wording in the new use-of-force policy is not clear, yet officers are required to sign a statement confirming that they understand it.  

"It's like playing the game and telling the players after the game is over what the rules are," Gamble told the Star Democrat. 

The new law changes the conditions required to use force from “reasonable and objective” to “necessary and proportional,” according to the report. 

Sheriff Jimmy Phillips of Dorchester County echoed Gamble’s concerns about the vague language and says he believes the new standards will cause crime to increase. 

"I think the way the legislature has handcuffed police is going to lead to an incredible spike in crime," Phillips told the Star Democrat. "John Q. Citizen has no idea what the legislature has done to law enforcement." 

Police leaders also worry the reforms will lead to a more sporadic officer disciplinary process. 

"This bill basically repealed the police officer's bill of rights, and set up new policies and procedures for public complaints only that will create a disciplinary process," said Darren Popkin, the sheriff of Montgomery County. 

The reform law directs counties to establish their own police accountability boards, putting the statewide disciplinary matrix “in a state of flux,” Popkin told the Star Democrat. The law also puts the final disciplinary authority on trial boards, not the police chief or sheriff. 

Gamble is concerned that policy will undermine law enforcement leaders and make it more difficult to get rid of bad cops.  

"I will have no discipline authority over my deputies," Gamble told the Star Democrat. "What’s the point of having a sheriff or chief of police?" he asked.

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