Local law enforcement says Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights shouldn’t be scrapped
MARYLAND – The Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR) has been a big point of contention for Maryland lawmakers over the past few years. But now they’re making steps towards passing a bill that could rework the LEOBR in a big way. “That is due in part to the fact that the committee has that ability to pull the pieces of the legislation apart and really delve in, make amendments and changes to however it may be,” said Speaker Pro Tem Sheree Sample-Hughes.
The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee passed a bill Friday aimed at drastically reworking the LEOBR. Some of the changes would include establishing that a law enforcement agency has a certain burden of proof in any proceeding under the act. The amendments would also allow citizens to take part in oversight after taking training sessions. “We want people – we want citizens – to be at the table and to ensure that they are very knowledgeable of the policies and procedures prior to making any decisions,” said Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes.
While lawmakers say the goal of the bill is transparency, Wicomico County Sherrif Mike Lewis tells 47ABC that transparency is already there. “The process might not be perfect, but it’s the best process we’ve ever had and it works. It allows a chief of a sheriff to have the ultimate authority over the dismissal of and or disciplinary action of a police officer,” said Sheriff Lewis.
Sheriff Lewis says that if anything needs to be changed about the LEOBR, it’s the speed at which misconduct investigations are handled. “I have police officers who have made mistakes – they knew they made mistakes. But they used the system to skate for several months before I could finally get rid of them,” said Sheriff Lewis.
In Worcester County, the sentiment is the same. “I think that it stands as it is. I mean it’s getting ready to go into its 47th year. It is a statewide, uniform investigative process that has to be followed, and the transparency is there,” said Worcester County Sheriff Matthew Crisafulli.
Sheriff Crisafulli says not having the LEOBR would turn investigative processes against officers accused of misconduct on its head. “It would lead to too many disparate policies and different types of disciplinary action being taken from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. I don’t believe that that’s good for transparency,” said Sheriff Crisafulli.
Plus, Sheriff Crisafulli says he wants the public to know that the LEOBR is only designed to ensure due process. “The LEOBR does not protect police officers that are going to be conducting themselves in an inappropriate fashion,” said Sheriff Cirsafulli.
But Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes says the 47-year-old LEOBR needs to change as society changes. “The law enforcement officers bill of rights was enacted in 1974 and since that time we’ve had changes in law enforcement personnel by way of training and areas of concern,” said Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes.
Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes says while it’s important to give citizens a seat at the table during investigations against police, it’s also important to make sure that those officers are treated fairly. “We can do the same for our officers, still protecting them, but making it to the point that it’s not so protected that we are closing and shutting out the proper doors and proper channels of discipline,” said Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes.