OCEAN CITY — With state lawmakers expected to debate several police reform bills early next year, a local sheriff this week made an impassioned plea not to paint all law enforcement with a broad brush.
Following a series of high-profile national incidents this year, there have been calls for defunding police and law enforcement reform in areas all over the country and Maryland has not been immune. Earlier this fall, Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee chair William Smith, Jr. (D-Montgomery), along with Senator Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City) and Senator Charles Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County) put forth at last 15 police reform and accountability bills to be debated in the upcoming General Assembly session.
The Senate committee will hear bills concerning use of physical or deadly force standards, the creation of a misconduct database to establish an officer’s credibility as a witness, the elimination of no-knock warrants, an officer’s duty to intervene and report misconduct, whistleblower protections, and a measure that prohibits purchasing certain military-grade equipment.
Lawmakers will also discuss legislation regarding public access to and court admissibility of body camera footage, the ability of state prosecutors to investigate of use of force and fatal officer encounters, financial liability surrounding police misconduct investigations, mandatory drug and alcohol testing after civilian fatalities, and required routine psychological testing for law enforcement officers, among other things.
Worcester County Sheriff Matt Crisafulli made an impassioned plea via video on social media for lawmakers to resist painting all law enforcement with a broad brush and urged area residents to support the men and women in blue.
“Some of these bills are very concerning for the law enforcement profession,” he said. “First, they’re trying to abolish the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights. That is taking away a police officer’s right to due process. The LEOBR does not protect bad police officers. It does not protect the jobs of bad cops or officers who are unfit for duty. The LEOBR does not afford police officers any rights that are not afforded to citizens, it only reinforces a police officer’s rights in the context of the law enforcement community.”
Crisafulli also addressed the use of force issue featured so prominently in certain national cases over the last several months.
“The House and Senate are also looking to criminalize the use of force,” he said. “This is very dangerous when our officers have to make split-second life or death decisions under extreme duress. This type of reform may cause them not to react in a dire situation.”
Crisafulli said his department, along with allied law enforcement agencies around the state, are prepared to fight in Annapolis this winter against onerous police reform bills.
“Law enforcement officers are in the battle of our lives in this upcoming legislative session,” he said. “Our profession has been painted with a broad brush, unfairly depicting us as irresponsible, lacking integrity and not caring about our community. This is a dangerous stroke against the men and women who protect our community every day.”
The sheriff urged area residents to resist trying police-involved cases in the court of public opinion.
“Some of the public opinion on how we do our job and what is right and what is wrong is not always accurate,” he said. “We cannot be judged by the court of public opinion. We need to have due process. If a police officer is criminally charged, then the courts should be the tryer of facts, not a clip of a video without all of the facts and circumstances.”
Crisafulli said with COVID and the way the General Assembly will likely operate this session will change how local and state law enforcement agencies fight the battle against stringent police reform bills.
“In order to have any success in avoiding a complete change to policing in Maryland, we will to explore different strategies and change the way we have worked in Annapolis in the past due to COVID-19 restrictions,” he said. “I, along with the other 23 sheriffs and chiefs of police will be battling for our men and women. If we do not, the end result may be the loss of many of our rights, our due process and our ability to do our job without fear of discipline or incarceration when making those split-second decisions while protecting ourselves, our fellow officers and our citizens under the totality of the circumstances.”
Crisafulli said indictments against law enforcement nationally in some cases has had an impact on new officers considering joining the profession.
“Unfortunately, I fear we will continue to see a lack of applications because of these reforms to a very rewarding profession,” he said. “I am a firm believer that it is incumbent on me and other law enforcement leaders to ensure that our men and women are acting appropriately in the course of their duty. It takes copious amounts of training in all aspects of law enforcement. The actions of a few do not represent the profession of outstanding men and women who put their lives on the line every day so we can live enjoyable lives.”
Finally, Crisafulli urged local residents to continue to support his department in the face of the pending challenges.
“I ask you to continue to support our law enforcement officers,” he said. “I want to thank Worcester County for your undying support for the men and women who protect us every day. The men and women of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Officer put on our uniforms every day with pride, respect and integrity and I can assure you the men and women of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office will continue to put on our uniforms with pride, respect and integrity. It is our honor to serve you each and every day.”