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ROCKVILLE — In attempt to provide more accountability and transparency to investigations of police shootings, Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando (D-At-Large) has introduced a bill that would provide more-local oversight of police.
The bill, called the Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency (LETT) Act, would require two independent law enforcement officials to investigate any instance in which an officer is involved in the death of an individual. The bill would also require after the investigation, if the independent investigators do not recommend filing criminal charges against the officer, that the report be made public.
“Directing an independent review of police actions, when an officer is involved in the death of a resident, will protect both the integrity of the inquiry and the civil rights of our residents, especially those of color,” Jawando said in a statement. “An independent criminal investigation guards against bias, and the perception of bias. This bill serves all involved – our officers, the prosecutors and our residents.”
Under the current agreement, prosecutors in Howard County investigate any officer-involved shooting with Montgomery County Police. If prosecutors in Howard County do not recommend criminal charges, Montgomery County Police conduct an internal affairs investigation to see whether the officer is worthy of punishment. According to the collective bargaining agreement, the investigation is not supposed to be made public, as it is considered a personnel matter.
If passed, the LETT Act would change the county’s agreement with Howard County, as all police-involved deaths would be investigated by independent law enforcement officials.
Jawando is joined by Council members Nancy Navarro (D-4), Gabe Albornoz (D-at large) and Craig Rice (D-2) as cosponsors on the bill, which has generally wide support on the council.
“The key is, unfortunately, as in any workforce — private or government — there will continue to be people who skirt the lines, and it is important for us to make sure that we have processes in place that allow for us, both the community and the government, to respond in those instances and to make the necessary changes. That’s what this bill is about,” Rice said.
Jawando’s bill was prompted by the death of Robert White. Montgomery County Police Officer Anand Badgujar shot and killed White after a confrontation with him in July in Silver Spring. White attacked Badgujar, who fired multiple shots, killing White. The officer-involved shooting prompted many questions from community members, who believe the officer could have deescalated the situation.
However, prosecutors from Howard County as well as Montgomery County staff from internal investigation cleared Badgujar of any wrongdoing, upsetting many members of the community and activists.
While police released body-camera footage from officer Badgujar and another body-camera video from a second police officer on the scene, detailing the confrontation between Badgujar and White, activists demanded more transparency from police. In a community meeting after Badgujar was cleared by Howard County prosecutors, Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger said he was limited in the type of information he could release and what action he could take, given state law and collective-bargaining rules the police union had negotiated, limiting what information about an officer’s personnel record can be released.
Following the introduction of Jawando’s bill, a Montgomery County police officer shot and killed an armed bank robber in Silver Spring on Jan. 16.
Council member Hans Riemer (D-At-Large) said the bill would give the public more confidence that the county has independent oversight of its police department.
“Is it best practice for a department to handle its own investigation, or is there an additional check or balance needed in the process?” he asked.