By KIMBERLY SEIF
Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau
A bill in the Maryland General Assembly would change procedure during a traffic or other stop to ensure that officers explicitly state certain rights, and aims to prevent police from using deceptive or coercive measures to obtain information.
SB0589, also known as the Know Your Rights Act, was heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last week.
The Know Your Rights Act would require all law enforcement officers to display proper identification, such as name and badge number, as well as verbally communicate it to the individual being stopped, according to a legislative analysis.
“I believe that when law enforcement is approaching its citizens, those types of identifications should be clearly seen by the citizen so that they know you are a true law enforcement officer,” said Sen. Charles Sydnor, D-Baltimore County, the sponsor of this bill.
Stanford Fraser, an assistant public defender in Prince George’s County who gave testimony in support of the bill, stated that 14 other states made similar changes to police procedure.
“There has not been data presented that suggests that doing these actions would create safety concerns or jeopardize investigations,” Fraser testified during the hearing, which Capital News Service viewed.
The Know Your Rights Act would require a police officer to inform the stopped individual of their right to refuse to speak or provide information to the officer, of the reason that they were stopped, and of their ability to terminate the encounter.
During a traffic stop, in addition to informing the driver of their rights, the officer would also have to inform any passengers of the vehicle of their right to refuse to identify themselves, according to the legislative analysis.
Howard County State’s Attorney Richard Gibson, D, spoke in opposition to this bill, stating that not identifying the passengers of a vehicle can impede the officer’s duty and can pose a potential safety risk.
“So, if a person with an open warrant for murder is a passenger in a car that is stopped for speeding, under this bill, the officer would be denied the opportunity to learn who the passenger is,” Gibson stated in written testimony submitted to the Judicial Proceedings Commitee.
Gibson also wrote that informing the driver of a vehicle of their ability to withhold information from the police directly contradicts the current Maryland Transportation Code, which requires people to provide their license and registration.
The Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and the Maryland Sheriff’s Association submitted written testimony in opposition to SB0589, stating that the change in procedure regarding traffic stops would increase the risk of danger for both the officer and the occupants of the vehicle.
“Traffic stops are also one of the most inherently dangerous activities in which police officers are involved, unaware of who they are stopping or what other possible criminal activity in which the operator or passengers might be engaged,” the testimony stated.
The bill would also prevent police from seizing personal belongings from someone who is being stopped without a warrant.
Fraser said that this requirement was created with the seizure of cell phones particularly in mind.
“Even more than body cams, the public’s ability to record police interactions provides accountability and transparency in policing,” Fraser testified.
Lawrence Greenberg from the Maryland Association for Justice, told lawmakers he receives calls “every single week” from people who were pulled over and were not told the name of the officer or allowed to record from their phones.
“This goes on more than you think and it is not right,” said Greenberg, an attorney.
Gibson also addressed this provision in his opposition testimony, stating that preventing the seizure of personal items is directly contradicting Supreme Court cases like Carroll v. United States, which allows for the search of a car without a warrant.
Retired Maj. Neill Franklin of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department and current treasurer of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership stated in his written testimony in support of SB0589 that many Maryland police agencies do have policies in place for police officers to identify themselves, but there is evidence that it is not enforced.
Introductions as well as an explanation of the reason for the encounter have been shown to put individuals at ease and de-escalate tense situations, according to Franklin.
Franklin stated that the Know Your Rights Act will provide state-wide consistency in policy as well as send an important message about the value put on the rights of citizens.
“Its passing will reinforce training and policy, and greatly assist with closing the divide between police and community, which will ultimately result in improved public safety,” Franklin wrote.
Lastly, the Know Your Rights Act would prevent law enforcement officers from using coercive tactics or misrepresent facts in order to obtain information.
Sydnor stated that although use of coercion and misrepresentation of facts has been ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court, it is within the state’s ability to change the conduct of its officers.
“I think it is wrong, and we have the opportunity to stop that,” Sydnor said.
Fraser said the Supreme Court ruling to make coercive measures permissible created a “floor and not a ceiling” for what states can do.
This means that state legislatures cannot outright declare it illegal or unconstitutional, but they can build on that ruling and create laws that will determine conduct, according to Fraser.
However, Gibson, said this legislation would directly contradict constitutional law, and stated this bill was a “criminal’s dream” in his written testimony.
“The Supreme Court has spoken on this issue, and whether you personally find it offensive or not, it is of no moment because the court has occupied that space with constitutional law,” Gibson said during the hearing.
Gibson told lawmakers that coercive tactics are used to draw out guilty parties, and when used correctly, serve a “greater societal purpose than saying no you can’t ever lie.”
Gibson said he was willing to work with Sydnor to create amendments and negotiate as he did not have issues with other parts of the bill.
If passed, the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission would be required to develop standards to implement the provisions of the bill, according to a legislative analysis.
The commission indicated that the bill would require a full time employee, costing $70,093 annually, according to a state fiscal analysis.
However, the Department of Legislative Services reported it could be implemented with the current resources available and integrated into annual in-service training programs.
SB0589 has a cross-filed bill in the House of Delegates, HB0197.
The bill hearing for HB0197, sponsored by Del. C.T. Wilson, D-Charles, was held on Feb. 9.
There are no voting sessions currently scheduled for SB0589 or HB0197.
Police reform has been a focus for many lawmakers this session in the Maryland General Assembly.
After the death of George Floyd during an arrest in May and the protests that sparked across the county, House Speaker Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, created the House Workgroup to Address Police Reform and Accountability in Maryland with the objective of pushing legislation in the 2021 session that would make effective change.
The workgroup submitted a report in December with recommendations for reforms, which included the creation of a use-of-force statute and implicit bias tests, and improving police accountability.