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A three-tiered system for addressing police discipline is coming to Worcester County.

Earlier this year, the Maryland General Assembly repealed the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights, which governs how police are disciplined. The law will expire at the end of June 2022. Its replacement is known as the Police Accountability Act, which “replaces the most internal discipline system under LEOBR with a multi-tiered system of (three) external civilian boards,” according to a memo from County Attorney Roscoe Leslie to the county commissioners.

According to Leslie’s memo, the boards would include a police accountability board, the overall governing body of the system that cannot have active police on it but must have a chair with “relevant experience” and will receive complaints of police misconduct; a five-member charging committee comprised of the accountability board chair and four civilians picked by the accountability board and the commissioners that will review complains and investigations into misconduct, decide if an officer should be charged with misconduct and recommend discipline; and a three-member trial board comprised of a retired judge, a civilian appointed by the accountability board and a police officer from the agency involved.

The trial board will conduct hearings if the officer doesn’t accept discipline and will have the power to issue subpoenas.

Leslie outlined current concerns as the financial burden, finding qualified board members, the extent of local board power and addressing issues like handling internal complaints that the new legislation is not clear on.

“During this process,” Commissioner Chip Bertino asked, “are the rights of the individual law enforcement officer protected each step of the way?”

Leslie responded that the goal is to protect officers similar to how the county protects them now.

“Board appointees will be trained properly with metrics similar to what the Maryland State Police use now,” he said. “(We just) need to fill in gaps to assure it.”

Bertino also voiced concern over the inclusion of civilians on the board.

“If we have citizens not well-versed in police procedures on these boards, or influenced by public opinion or videos on CNN or Fox News, it could irreparably harm individuals going through this,” Bertino said. “Like everyone else, they’re innocent until proven guilty and it’s darn important to protect their rights moving forward.”

A formal resolution on how to implement the new system is expected early next year.

This story appears in the print version of Ocean City Today on Nov. 19, 2021.

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