How Many Law Enforcement Officials Does It Take to Explain Their Legal Privileges?
In Maryland, 15.
Maryland's Public Safety and Policing Work Group, a state panel created in the aftermath of the Freddie Gray riots in Baltimore earlier this year, is facing some criticism over its upcoming hearings about the state's Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR), one of the oldest such set of laws on the books in the United States, because the panel, made up of state lawmakers, will hear testimony from 15 separate law enforcement officials in defense of their "bill of rights."
The American Civil Liberties Union says that's unfair, but the chair of the panel says "both sides" will have an equal time to speak so he doesn't see the problem. Via the Baltimore Sun:
Del. Curt Anderson, the Baltimore Democrat who co-chairs the work group, said the lineup is more about time than the number of people who can speak.
He said the 15 law enforcement officials — 11 from local Fraternal Order of Police lodges across the state, three from local sheriff's offices and Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop — will have a total of an hour and fifteen minutes to speak.
The ACLU and other reform advocates "can bring as many people as they want," Anderson said, as long as they keep their testimony to an hour.
Equal time is only speciously fair to begin with. There is one defense of LEOBR but many avenues of criticism, from the piecemeal to the wholesale. More importantly, the panel's approach to the legal privileges enshrined in the state's LEOBR betrays the fundamental problem with government policy toward policing, namely that police officers are treated by government, because of the political rules and culture surrounding their professions, as another constituency or interest group, and not as servants of the public who should always show deference to their employers and masters.
Is there a case to be made for Maryland's LEOBR? Sure. After all, one was made in the 70s when police and their advocates convinced the state legislature to pass it. One representative of the police unions should suffice to explain the benefits of the privileges offered by LEOBR, and one representative from the state police or legal department should suffice to explain the legal history of the legislation, its effects, and what might happen if it were repealed. Instead, there will be 15 law enforcement officials testifying, each likely to personalize the LEOBR, talk about its importance to their jobs and to preserving public safety blah blah blah.
Such input by government employees, sadly, is the norm in the contemporary democracy. In each case it perverts the relationship between the public and its government, helping to incubate a privileged class, made up of government workers, who have a special, beneficial relationship with a government that serves the interests of its employees more than its technical employers.