- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed legislation Tuesday aimed at increasing police accountability during a ceremony that had been delayed because of Baltimore riots after the death of a man injured while in police custody.

State legislators passed the measures this session in response to the police killing of a man in Missouri last year. Now, with six Baltimore officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, advocates are pushing for further action.

One of the measures requires a commission to develop a policy for police use of body cameras by Jan. 1. Billy Murphy, an attorney who represents Gray’s family, said the bill was a step in the right direction but more must be done.

“Ferguson was viewed as a distant problem someplace else until Freddie Gray,” Murphy said after attending the bill-signing ceremony. “Now, it’s in our own backyard, and we’ve got to deal with it.”

Advocates of increasing police accountability in Maryland contended during the recent legislative session that this was the year to push for greater reforms. Protests across the nation against killings of unarmed black men by police in New York and Ferguson, Missouri, highlighted the problem. However, much of the legislation sought by advocates stalled in the session, which ended six days before Gray’s death.

Sara Love, the public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said advocates believe lawmakers mostly avoided the tough work needed to address the problem.

“We were disappointed in what happened,” Love said.

Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat who pushed for more reforms, said greater consensus needs to be developed statewide.

“People thought the only problem that existed was in Baltimore, and we need to see what kind of police practices across the state need to be changed so that we can get a consensus of state legislators,” Anderson said.

One measure that failed to pass would have abolished a rule preventing a Maryland police officer suspected of a crime from being interrogated for up to 10 days after an incident. The bill also would have ended a requirement that claims of police brutality be filed within 90 days. Supporters of changing the law say the two rules in the state’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights place added burdens on victims of police brutality.

Still, lawmakers passed several bills this year. One requires law enforcement agencies to provide information to the governor’s office about deaths of people in police custody. Another bill requires law enforcement to record demographic information, including race, pertaining to traffic stops.

Early this month, days after rioting in Baltimore, top lawmakers formed a workgroup to study public safety and policing practices. The panel has been directed to consider a statewide oversight panel for certain types of investigations. It also has been charged with reviewing the state’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights and how it is practiced by different law enforcement agencies.

“It gives us time during the interim to have a thorough discussion rather than a 90-day session,” said House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel. He said more time and outreach is needed to address the complicated issue.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, said lawmakers will need to weigh the balance of protecting the public from abuses without undermining police work.

“We need to understand that this is not a witch hunt but simply is a way to make certain that our citizens are treated fairly and that our police are treated fairly at the same time,” Miller said.


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