Delegates Introduce Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Bill

OCEAN CITY — Legislation borne out of a local state delegate’s firsthand ride-along with law enforcement during last year’s pop-up rally would classify certain acts committed against police officers as hate crimes with enhanced penalties.

During last September’s pop-up rally in Ocean City, Delegate Wayne Hartman witnessed with police officers the huge crowds of largely unruly, disrespectful visitors that wreaked havoc on Ocean City for the better part of four days. During the long weekend, 277 total arrests were made, including 127 on Saturday alone, when the unsanctioned event reached a crescendo.

Hartman, a former Ocean City councilman, was no stranger to some of the carnage seen during the pop-up rally and, as a delegate, helped shepherd legislation through the General Assembly in years past including the special event bill and the exhibition driving bill. Appalled by what he saw during his two-night ride-along with law enforcement during September’s event, Hartman introduced a pre-filed bill protecting police officers and other first-responders under the state’s hate crimes statute.

The pre-filed bill, co-sponsored in the House by Delegate Robert Long (R-Baltimore), has been assigned to the Judiciary Committee and is set for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 19. It was also cross-filed in the Senate by Senator Jack Bailey (R-Calvert and St. Mary’s).

The legislation, if passed by the General Assembly, which reconvened on Wednesday, would make certain crimes carried out against law enforcement officers and first-responders, such as many of the assaults seen during the September pop-up rally, a hate crime with enhanced penalties. During the most egregious portion of the event, law enforcement officers and first-responders were pelted with rocks and bottles, had their vehicles and equipment damaged and skirmished physically with offenders.

For an offense that qualified as a misdemeanor, the penalty could be three years, up to a $3,000 fine or both. If the offenses were considered elevated to felonies, there are two ranges of penalties in the proposed legislation. One class of hate crime would include up to 10 years in jail and a $10,000 fine or both, while the most egregious hate crime defined in the legislation could result in a jail term up to 20 years or a $20,000 fine or both.

Following his two-day ride-along during the pop-up rally, Hartman issued a video statement describing some of the illicit behavior and attacks on law enforcement and first-responders he witnessed.

“It was hard to describe and imagine what happened in Ocean City and the intensity and magnitude of it,” he said. “Oftentimes, those law enforcement officers were met with rocks, frozen water bottles, beer cans, fireworks, roman candles and so forth being shot at them,” he said. “It was a scene I never expected to see in Ocean City.”

That action prompted Hartman to file his hate crimes legislation. It’s important to note the bill, if passed, would apply to similar situations and circumstances statewide.

“One thing I do want to do for law enforcement officers and first-responders is introduce a bill to the Maryland General Assembly to add law enforcement officers and first-responders to be protected under the hate crimes bill and make them a protected class,” he said. “That would be another tool that law enforcement would have next year. When they’re met with the behavior we saw this year, there can increased penalties and these situations can be treated as a hate crime because that’s exactly what this is.”

For its part, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) is fully in support of the legislation, obviously for its officers and first-responders, but also for their brethren around the state, OCPD Deputy Communications Director Ashley Miller said this week.

“We wholeheartedly support any legislation that provides additional protection to all first responders,” she said. “Over the last year, those in law enforcement and other first-responder positions have had a target painted on their back for the career path they have chosen. In 2020, we saw a shift in law enforcement support nationwide. Here in Ocean City, we saw a lot of the antipolice sentiment during June and the pop-up rally in September.”

Miller echoed some of Hartman’s sentiments following his ride-along.

“Delegate Hartman saw firsthand the anti-police sentiment when he rode along with our department during the pop-up rally,” she said. “During that weekend, law enforcement members had bottles, frozen water bottles, landscaping material, and fireworks thrown at them while they were carrying out their normal course of duties by bystanders.”

Miller said the proposed legislation had its genesis in the pop-up rally, but could be utilized at other tenuous times in the resort of law enforcement.

“In June, we encounter large groups gather around arrest scenes, yelling anti-police statements and hindering our officers’ duties,” she said. “As this legislation is introduced and progresses during this legislative session, we will keep a close eye on it. We hope to see an outcome that does offer additional protection to all first responders.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.