Rawlings-Blake recommends 11 changes to police ‘Bill of Rights’

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is recommending 11 changes to Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which critics say is too protective of officers accused of wrongdoing.

In a letter sent to state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh and Del. Curt Anderson, the Baltimore Democrats who co-chair the General Assembly‘s Public Safety and Policy Workgroup, Rawlings-Blake said she is endorsing nine policy changes recommended by Maryland’s police chiefs and sheriffs, calling them “common sense.”

Currently, state law mandates that disciplinary actions against police go through a trial board that makes decisions based on the preponderance of the evidence. Before the board’s decision, the police commissioner may suspend an officer without pay only if he or she is charged with a felony.

The law gives officers 10 days to get an attorney before they can be questioned by superiors, and the law states that an officer may not be investigated on a brutality accusation unless it was made within 90 days of the incident.

“I believe Police Chiefs and Sheriffs need additional authority to terminate without a hearing if the officer is convicted of a serious misdemeanor,” Rawlings-Blake wrote in her letter.

Rawlings-Blake also added two of her own recommendations: She wants police chiefs empowered to suspend without pay an officer charged with a serious misdemeanor and chiefs to have more time to review a trial board’s decision before deciding a final punishment.

“These will provide real and substantive change to the disciplinary process that will put the power in the hands of a Maryland police chief — in Baltimore’s case, its Police Commissioner — to effectuate discipline in a timely and meaningful manner,” the mayor wrote.

A panel of state lawmakers, led by Pugh and Anderson, is currently studying how to improve police accountability. The issue has gained national prominence as black men in Baltimore, Chicago, New York and Ferguson, Mo., died in widely publicized police-involved killings.

Baltimore has authorized paying out more than $12 million since 2010 to settle suits alleging wrongdoing by police.

But police unions, including the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, have resisted changes to the law, warning against sweeping changes that could undermine an officer’s protections from unfair treatment by police brass. Baltimore’s police union has argued that the law simply gives an officer “his day in court.”

In most jurisdictions, police commissioners already have the authority to fire officers even if a trial board recommends a lesser punishment.

For instance, in 2010, then-Baltimore Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld fired a police officer who was seen on video berating and pushing a 14-year-old skateboarder at theInner Harbor in 2007. A trial board recommended the 19-year veteran officer, Salvatore Rivieri, be suspended for six days and lose six days of leave. But Bealefeld argued that Rivieri had brought “discredit upon and undermined public confidence” in the department.

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