Former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said every police department in the state should undergo an independent review of its policies and procedures.
Over the past two weeks, mass protests over the Minneapolis police killing of 46-year-old African-American George Floyd have taken place in cities in Maryland and throughout the nation. Whereas the protests over Floyd’s death have turned violent in many cities-they have been largely peaceful in Baltimore and other cities throughout Maryland. That stands in stark contrast to the atmosphere five years ago when Baltimore experienced days of rioting following the death of Freddie Gray. Gray died while in the custody of Baltimore City police.
“Every police department, whether its local or state or municipal-ought to be getting an independent outside review of its policies and procedures in terms of culture and race and the policies they’ve had in place probably since the ascension of that department-and see whether they’re still applicable today, Gansler told Maryland Reporter.com in a phone interview on Monday.
Gansler, a Democrat, who served from 2007-15, said independent reviews are best conducted when departments enter into a consent decree with the Justice Department. The city of Baltimore entered into a consent decree with Obama’s DOJ in early-January 2017-nearly two years after Gray’s death. However, Gansler noted that such action is unlikely with Trump’s DOJ, which thus far has not issued consent decrees. Fourteen consent decrees were issued during the Obama administration.
Gansler said the General Assembly should review department practices and pass legislation to address police misconduct. However, he stressed that that is no substitute for an independent review.
“You’re only going to scratch the surface on the statewide level. Because there are some police departments in some of the areas of the state that I would imagine have outdated protocols and procedures that can and should be reviewed by an independent outside source.”
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Will Smith (D-Montgomery) said his committee “absolutely” will consider legislation to address police misconduct when the General Assembly reconvenes in Jan. 2021.
“We’ve been here before in Maryland in 2015 after the murder of Freddie Gray. You saw protests and the Baltimore uprising. And that started a conversation…we had an opportunity to take some bold action and we fell a little short. And, so now, I think it’s definitely a moment we can seize that can kickstart some bold legislative action for real systemic reform.”
Last week Smith unveiled a series of legislative proposals aimed at addressing police accountability. They include disclosure of officer personnel records, implicit bias training, and a ban on excessive force maneuvers such as chokeholds and strangleholds. The proposals have yet to be drafted into bills.
Smith said the protests over Floyd’s death are about more than just police misconduct.
“It’s certainly not that simple. This protest in particular-its about police misconduct. But the issues that lead to this permeate through every aspect of society. It’s from housing, it’s from health care disparities, income disparities…this is a big systemic issue that has been percolating for years. And you’re seeing that rage and that energy manifesting itself in protests.”
Smith said the protests are unlikely to dissipate anytime soon.
“Until we have broad-based changed throughout society I suspect that energy will still be there.”
Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City) sits on Smith’s committee. She said many of the proposals Smith unveiled last week are based on bills she and others previously introduced during multiple sessions that were never brought to a vote. Carter said she and Smith are working together to address police misconduct.
Carter said legislation is needed in three crucial areas.
“We need access to the internal disciplinary records. We need civilian oversight so that police officers are not policing and investigating themselves. And we need public disclosure to families and stakeholders.”