Public Defender Urges Police Reform

By Peta Richkus.

In June 2020, Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones, with Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Luke Clippinger, convened the Work Group to Address Police Reform and Accountability in Maryland.

“Policing in America is broken. While we have taken a number of positive steps in Maryland, we can’t be satisfied until every citizen has confidence in their police department…. We need structural reform ideas from the community and law enforcement to fix this problem in a collaborative way,” the Speaker said in a statement.

“The Work Group is to review both the policies and procedures governing the investigation of police misconduct, including Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights statute, and the use of body cameras and body camera footage. Further, the Work Group will consider how uniform statewide use of force policies and arrest procedures would work, and also identify what are the national best practices for independent prosecution of law-enforcement related crimes.”

In its third hearing which took place in August, for almost five and a half hours, the work group heard testimony from 80 citizens about their experience with police abuse and what they thought should be done about it.

One of the speakers was Jenny Egan, Chief of Juvenile Litigation, Baltimore City/MD Public Defender. What follows is her testimony.

This work group has an historic opportunity and obligation to address the role policing plays in upholding white supremacy in our country. Members of this workgroup should reject and return donations they have received from the FOP as it compromises your ability to act with the courage and independence this moment requires.

I am calling for the five changes just enumerated by Carol Stern from Jews United for Justice.

    • Repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR).
    • Control of the Baltimore City Police Department must be restored to Baltimore City residents.
    • Investigations into police misconduct must be transparent.
    • Limit the use of force by law enforcement.
    • Remove law enforcement from our children’s schools.

Until you abolish LEOBR and make all investigations into misconduct transparent entirely, no one with oversight responsibility can say with any authority that they know what police are doing in our state.

Police officers should be held to a higher – not a lower – standard than everyone else. If sunshine and transparency would keep an officer from taking action or working for the police department – then that person is not fit for a badge.

I would love to tell you the name of an active duty officer who has been accused repeatedly of using his car to ram into children, but I cannot because of LEOBR.

What I can tell you is that when the children I represent ask if they should file complaints against officers – I tell them no – because of LEOBR.

I have to look young Black children, who have been abused by police, in the eye and tell them ‘if you file a complaint, it will take years to wind its way through an intentionally convoluted and rigged system. And in the meantime, he may harass you, he may arrest you, and he may hurt. And no one – not me, not the court, not your parents – can protect you from police violence.

Because of LEOBR.

No one should be above the law.

Please, abolish LEOBR now.

 

Peta Richkus is a retired State employee. MD Secretary of General Services, Jan 1999 – Jan 2003; Commissioner, Port of Baltimore, MD Port Administration, Jul 2008 – Jan 2014.

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