A former Maryland park ranger was arrested and indicted in September for allegedly raping two of his female colleagues. But despite the grim crime he’s accused of, he’s still been allowed to collect nearly $95,000 of his pension as he awaits trial in jail.
Now, two state lawmakers are hoping to pass legislation to prevent police officers from receiving retirement benefits after being convicted of a felony crime.
“Nobody wants to pay for police misconduct and still have the police receive those pensions,” Baltimore State Sen. Jill Carter, a Democrat, told the Baltimore Banner.
Maryland is one of 24 states that have no pension forfeiture laws on the books, meaning that any law enforcement officer who has a pension—even if they’ve been convicted of a crime—is allowed to collect it once they are 55 years old and have served more than 15 years in the job.
Carter and her colleague House Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins, hope to pass legislation next year giving the state attorney general the power to withhold part of or the entirety of an accused officer’s pension, even if the officer meets the other pension requirements.
The effort follows the 27-count indictment of former Gunpowder Falls State Park Manager Michael J. Browning, a 50-year veteran of the park who was accused of raping at least two female park employees.
Browning allegedly met one of the victims when she was a teenager and hired her as a seasonal employee for the state park when she was an adult. When the two worked together, Browning and the woman, who was 40 years his junior, had a six-year-long romantic relationship. Police say that during a phone call with her earlier this year, Browning admitted to raping her at least 10 times.
Browning was arrested in September and indicted by a grand jury on assault and rape charges in October. Despite the alleged phone call, he has maintained his innocence through his attorney. On Nov. 30, he resigned, which made him eligible to collect his pension and essentially sidestepped any financial repercussions of his accused crimes.
Browning is currently awaiting trial in Baltimore County Detention Center, where he’s being held without bail. He’s scheduled to stand trial for the charges in March.
Wilkins’ and Carter’s effort to pass legislation to block convicted cops from collecting their pensions isn’t the first of its kind: According to the lawmakers, a 2022 version of this bill didn’t gain support because of the passage of the Maryland Police Accountability Act, an extensive police reform and accountability bill that was passed just a year prior. But they hope that frustration over Browning’s case will help lend them enough votes to pass it in the 2023 session.
“We need to send the message that if you’re a law enforcement officer and you commit crimes when you are on duty, your pension will be at risk,” Wilkins told the Baltimore Banner. “For him to be rewarded potentially while in prison with checks from the state and taxpayer dollars—it’s just not right.”
The state Fraternal Order of Police claims giving the state the ability to take away an officer’s pension makes the job less attractive to potential new recruits.
“Every police department in the state of Maryland is struggling to attract and retain people,” Clyde Boatwright told the Boston Banner. He added that he hopes legislators wait until the effects of the Police Accountability Act of 2021, which went into effect July 1, 2022, are more concrete.
Holding cops who have been found guilty of misconduct accountable is an issue several states have tried to address head-on. States like California, Virginia, and Massachusetts have passed laws allowing them to decertify an officer, essentially ensuring that their record of bad behavior follows them if they try to find a job in law enforcement elsewhere in the country.
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