Good afternoon. My name is Jo Shifrin. I am a volunteer leader with Jews United for Justice and a resident of Montgomery County. I am testifying in favor of JPR 15, repealing LEOBR, and in opposition to the other bills under consideration this week. Policing in Maryland is a broken legacy of a racist system, and it is past time for partial reforms.
Since 2015, Maryland police have killed 79 people, 46 (or 58%) of whom were Black, while less than a third of Maryland’s population is Black. Police – when confronted with white and Black people exhibiting the same behavior—will disproportionately arrest Black people. In 2016, following the murder of Freddie Gray, Jr. in police custody, a series of police reforms were enacted. But nothing changed. I appreciate the effort undertaken by Senator. Smith and his colleagues on JPR, but we must alter the balance of power between police and the community to give the people real control over the officers who are supposed to protect residents.
Police unions are powerful opponents of true police reform. The Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights –which gives far more protection to police officers than to other public employees– must be repealed in its entirety. This repeal will allow Chiefs of Police the ability to fire those who abuse the residents they are sworn to serve and it will prevent the taxpayers from having to pay the salaries of abusive police.
Control of the Baltimore City Police Dept. must be restored to Baltimore City residents. Baltimore City is the only place in Maryland where the state controls the police. Baltimore City residents should not have to go to Annapolis to urge policy changes to their police department.
Investigations into police misconduct must be transparent. Currently, the public has no access to files concerning the handling of police misconduct investigations because the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) classifies this data as confidential personnel information. The public has a right to this information.
There must be a state-wide law that strictly limits a police officer’s use of force. Maryland is one of only a few states without a statutory limit on use of force. Too many Black and brown people have been injured or killed by the police. The General Assembly must pass a law to address this issue.
School Resource Officers must be removed from our schools. When police officers are present in schools, arrests of children, especially Black children, increase. Instead of arresting children, we need to provide counselors, social workers, and other services that support children.
More than 60 organizations across the state are in agreement: These are the changes we want and anything less is unacceptable. I respectfully urge you to support JPR 15 and to pass additional strong legislation to truly change policing in Maryland.