‘I saw first hand the importance of the Peace Officers Bill of Rights.’ [Opinion]

The State of Maryland became the first to repeal its Peace Officers Bill of Rights. Police officers who cause injuries or death could be jailed for 10 years under the new Maryland law.

The Maryland Governor vetoed the bill three times and his veto was overridden to put the new law on the books.

Ironically, Maryland was the first to approve the Peace Officers Bill of Rights back in 1974. Twenty other states have still got a Peace Officer Bill of Rights. Many Blue State Legislators have threatened to repeal or significantly alter their respective states’ Peace Officers Bill of Rights.

As a former member of the executive staff of one of America’s largest law enforcement agencies (I wasn’t a peace officer), I saw first hand the importance of the Peace Officers Bill of Rights. These laws do help those investigating Use of Force, Officer Involved Shootings, Accidental Discharge of Firearms, violations of department policy,  and many other forms of public complaints.

As a Recruiting, Retention, and Diversity Commission found during its work, it is difficult to attract qualified applicants to serve in law enforcement careers. That report was issued in the early 2000’s and long before the recent domestic attacks on police officers.

The Governor of Maryland is likely correct that getting someone to serve in law enforcement in his state will be more difficult. With civil penalties and the threat of jail time, it will likely make it difficult to fill vacant positions across law enforcement in every city and county in his state.

Standards for new law enforcement recruits are very tough. In fact, in some agencies it is not uncommon to test and evaluate 200 applicants to get just one who may be offered a job.

To be a sworn law enforcement officer, applicants must take a written exam,  a physical, complete an obstacle course and run, take a polygraph,  a credit check, and complete a mental health evaluation. Once each of these steps is completed satisfactorily, senior law enforcement personnel review and rank the applicants. Only the very best receive an offer to attend a grueling academy that can last six months or more. After graduating, newly minted peace officers face a probation period that may last as long as 18 months.

Some expect law enforcement to be perfect in processing a split-second decision to use force. We often hear reports of legislators or members of the public ask, “Why didn’t the officer just shoot him in the leg or use the taser?”

Then we have cases of a parent calling 911 because an adult child was reported to be hitting them. A deputy responding to that call was killed by that adult. Domestic calls are often violent and can end in death of a suspect or officer. Police work is dangerous as is protecting the public.

Americans want professional law enforcement. When you dial 911 you want police, deputy sheriffs, or constables, to arrive in just seconds. Waiting for those officers to show seems like forever. In reality it’s just minutes for a response to a call. Police are also slammed with calls. This is referred to as “call stacking.” These delays are the result of too few officers on patrol.

We don’t have enough law enforcement these days. Many have retired earlier than expected or left the profession for other careers with less risk and more appreciation.

Some Americans are calling for defunding police and law enforcement. They wanted reforms of the Peace Officers Bill of Rights or outright repeal. Maryland handed them what they wanted.

If states want reforms, they should be cooperative with law enforcement leaders and labor at the table with legislators.

Maryland is setting the pace and only time will tell if this new set of laws means fewer quality applicants to protect and serve.

America’s peace officers do great work protecting us! Yes, split-second decisions may end up taking a life. We can’t expect officers to perform with perfection. When mistakes are alleged investigations result. Officers are punished for mistakes or bad judgement up to and including termination. For Blue state legislators it’s all about transparency.

Americans owe law enforcement a debt of gratitude and thanks for their service. It’s a tough job. More funding is needed not less. Any reform of the Peace Officers Bill of Rights must include law enforcement, labor leaders, police commissions, advocacy from multiple sides or the issue, and changes should be good policy and not political pandering.

Image Sources

  • Peace Officers: Shutterstock