Battle for Police Reform, Handgun Penalties Begins
by: Sean Yoes Senior AFRO Contributor
We’re roughly a third of the way through the 2016 legislative session in Annapolis and there is growing dissension among activists and legislators who seek law enforcement reform in the state.
On Feb. 23, divergent groups including family members of people killed by police officers, heads of police unions, police chiefs and children protesters (draped in crime scene tape) descended upon the state capital, as debate began over 27 bills aimed at some measure of law enforcement reform. Even William Porter, the first officer to stand trial connected to the death of Freddie Gray attended the hearings.
The focus of many is on House Bill 1016, which was crafted to amend Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR), the first and many argue, the strongest set of protections for law enforcement officers in the nation. The bill is the product of a legislative task force known as the Public Safety and Policing Work Group.
“The problem is that they got most of that information…from folks who are affiliated with law enforcement. A lot of folks did a lot of good work, came up with some okay ideas, but also came up with some problematic ideas,” said Lawrence Grandpre, director of research for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS), a Baltimore-based grassroots think tank. Grandpre made his comments during, “First Edition,” Tuesday evening.
“The biggest example of this is a provision which basically means that if you have a police officer accused of doing something wrong when they go through…the internal trial board…and there is only police officers who serve on that trial board,” Grandpre added. “So, it’s literally the police policing the police.” As of now, HB 1016 has the full support of Speaker of the House Mike Bush.
LBS supports legislation that will be introduced by Del. Jill Carter (D-41st), which LBS said will include a provision that would require at least one civilian member of the internal trial board that would determine discipline for officers accused of misconduct.
Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis is wearing a couple of different lobbying hats during this legislative session. He is against pending legislation that would increase the influence of police unions in the disciplinary process. But, Davis is supporting legislation brought forward by Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-40th), which would require anybody caught with a loaded handgun to be locked up for at least a year.
Davis laid out his argument for the handgun legislation on First Edition, Feb. 23.
“The choice a person makes to arm himself with a firearm before he leaves his house, whether it’s sticking that gun in your waistband or sticking that gun under the front seat of your car is problematic for our community because young people whether it’s in Baltimore or any other major city or major county in the country really don’t possess the conflict resolution skills that we need them to possess in the first place,” said Davis, who characterized himself as one of the more progressive police chiefs in the nation during the interview.
“And the immediate availability of a firearm I think really takes some occasions that should, maybe in days gone by, should be a fist fight at most, it takes it to a gun battle,” Davis added. “And we have so many acts of violence in the city that are just spontaneous eruptions of emotion that without that immediate accessibility to a firearm, I think that conflict is otherwise resolved.”
Also during the show, Natasha Pratt Harris, associate professor and Criminal Justice Program coordinator at Morgan State University, argued the handgun legislation may be necessary, but preventative measures are more vital.
“I consistently say that we need to see this as an absolute emergency…saying, `How do we make sure children who are going back and forth to school, how to we make sure elderly siblings — like just happened yesterday, who were going to the bus stop– aren’t injured and really looking at that piece to protect our communities,” she added.
“Not so much focusing on punishing and punishing and punishing, when we know that hasn’t worked.”
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m. on WEAA 88.9.
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