Maryland Lawmakers Purge Decades-Old Law That Shielded Bad Cops

Over the objections of Gov. Larry Hogan, the state’s Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights is tossed out.


Maryland lawmakers defied Republican Gov. Larry Hogan over the weekend and eliminated the state's Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights (LEOBR). Since the '70s, that law has made it harder to investigate and fire bad cops.

When police unions pushed through such laws, which still exist in 15 other states, they argued that the legislation would make sure cops receive due process when they're accused of misconduct. But in reality, these laws give officers special protections that shield them during investigations. They mandate a "cooling off" period before a cop can be interviewed after a citizen files a complaint, giving accused officers time to plan out how they'll respond to questioning—a privilege not granted to most people accused of criminal behavior. They make it harder (or impossible) to access police discipline records. And they mandate that the panels that determine the fate of officers accused of misconduct be made up of fellow police officers. They forbid independent investigations of cops, and they overrule the judgment of police chiefs.

Maryland was the first state to pass a LEOBR in 1972, and now it's the first to get rid of one. House Bill 670 replaces that police board with an independent Police Accountability Board in each county; it will be staffed by civilians, not police officers. They will recommend disciplinary action. A police chief will have the authority to impose additional discipline, but he or she can't water down the board's recommendations. The accused officer is entitled to a trial if he or she wants to appeal the discipline, and the trial board will consist of a judge, a civilian, and a police officer.

In other words, the new system includes due process but it's not a kind that the police union can control.

The House and Senate passed the bill in early April, but Hogan vetoed it on Friday, along with two other police reform bills. (The others would mandate that police wear body cameras, would require the use of force to be "necessary and proportional" to the situation, and would limit the use of no-knock warrants to daylight hours and to times when the officers show they're necessary to avoid destruction of evidence and to protect their own lives and safety.) The legislature overrode all three vetoes on Saturday.

In Hogan's veto message, he claims that the bills "would undermine the goal that I believe we share of building transparent, accountable, and effective law enforcement institutions and instead further erode police morale, community relationships, and public confidence." Given the public outrage that inspired these reforms, does Hogan really expect people to believe that these bills would undermine "community relationships and public confidence"? A compromise legislation as it is, the restrictions on no-knock warrants have enough exceptions for "exigent circumstances" that it's not even actually clear that it will lead to fewer raids.

Incidentally, the cases that provoked those protests—the police slayings of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minnesota—both took place in states with LEOBR protections.

Walter Olson, a contributing editor at Reason, serves as a co-chair of Maryland's Citizens Redistricting Commission; he's also a critic of LEOBRs. He tells Reason he appreciates the symbolic importance of repeal as well as lawmakers' focus on the provision's importance. But he's not sure a civilian panel will produce as much change as people are hoping for. He thinks that chiefs and sheriffs should be making the calls and being held accountable for those decisions.

"There will still be a hearing panel, just differently made up, and so forth," he tells Reason. "If you take the view that police chiefs or sheriffs should have straightforward authority to address officer misconduct, and then should be politically accountable to voters for those decisions—well, this doesn't get us there."

This post has been updated to clarify Olson's comments.

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  1. This seems relatively straight-forward and a no-brainer for good reforms. At this point I’m not going to read the law and see if they merely replaced the Officer’s BoR with a different set of Union protections, I’m going to take Reason’s and Politico’s word that this was a straight repeal.

    1. I’m not as optimistic as you are, but we’ll see how this works out. I’ve heard too much about “Civilian Review Boards” to expect this one to have any teeth and to not be stocked by badge-lickers.

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  2. Not perfect. But a darned good step in the right direction finally.

  3. Chaos is spreading early fueled by far left democrats and their goons. This summer will probably top last years for violence by the leftists.

    1. Could be. Do you want the violence from cops to continue anyway? Cops won’t have their own special Bill of Rights–good! They’re not special. By the way, they are civilians and should be subject to our criminal codes like the rest of us.

  4. Please, Please, PLEASE stop using the word “civilian” in the meaning of “not a cop”. It’s just another way of militarizing the cops. Only people subject to The Uniform Code of Military Justice are not civilians. Including police officers, which are utterly civilians.

    1. “noun
      a person who is not on active duty with a military, naval, police, or fire fighting organization”

      Dictionary.com disagrees.

      I don’t however, but I hold no truck with assholes like you who demand the sole right to define what indefinite words mean.

    2. Thbbppt. That is not the meaning of the word “civilian”. Even within the context of the UCMJ and the Geneva Convention, that’s not the definition. Police forces, even the good ones, are paramilitary forces.

  5. The Baltimore police will turn to the Chicago police for training.

    Answer the call….
    Point and laugh…..
    Drive away.

    Crime will go way down, statistically, at least.

  6. Come on Reason- you’re always calling out the Dems for this or that when it’s negative.

    How about you speak of this one appropriately- it was the DEMOCRATS who passed this over a Republican governor and a bunch of Republican no votes in the House and Senate.

    It’s all in your link to legiscan there.

    Cmon, you can do it- it was the DEMOCRATS who got rid of this absurdly shitty law. Certainly not the fascist Republicans.

    1. Reason is a libertarian-themed organization. If your for your pro-censorship fascist Democrat echo chamber this ain’t it.

      1. your -> you’re looking

  7. Encouraging that this very bad law, that libeled the BoR in addition to enabling police abuse, was thrown away. Discouraging that Hogan, who showed some promise of being part of a remnant of Republican fussionism, went authoritarian pro (bad) police.

  8. Every time a so called “law” is purged, someone is owed reparations.

  9. Seriously, why can’t it be like in the movies, where the chief or sheriff just tells the cop to turn in his gun and badge?

    (Of course, in the movies it’s because the cop is playing by his own rules and the chief doesn’t know how close the cop is getting to catching the bad guys – but those things resolve themselves by the end of the movie so it’s OK)

  10. And then when crime goes through the roof, as we have seen in numerous cities where police reform has been pushed through…what shall be the Reason response?

    I know! Citizens should use their firearms to defend their persons and property ’cause muh Second Amendment. But when a citizen does pull the trigger on a perp, they end up being railroaded by the police reformers. See Kyle Rittenhouse or Jake Gardner.

    Perhaps Reason’s editors can provide guidelines for employing firearms in the brave new era of mostly peaceful rioting.

  11. And then when crime goes through the roof, as we have seen in numerous cities where police reform has been pushed through…what shall be the Reason response?

    Citation? Link??

    Anything other than hysterics, chicken little?

  12. “and then should be politically accountable to voters for those decisions…”
    Exactly! Political accountability is why we need to destroy the police unions. Police union contracts undermine the oversight powers of our elected officials. Mayors are the heads of municipal police departments and they should maintain their authority and responsibility regarding firing bad cops. We can’t count on our rotten prosecutors and rotten judges, of course, but as voters we should be able to choose elected officials who will actually be able to execute their offices’ powers.

  13. Blue lives matter, and police officers deserve civil rights, but those should be the same rights afforded to every citizen, regardless of affiliation with any exclusive government agency.

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