ROCKVILLE — County Council members are making strides in creating legislation concerning police-involved deaths of residents in Montgomery County.
Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Will Jawando have both been working on policies and sending letters to continue political momentum to improve relations between the police and county residents.
On May 22, Riemer announced that he plans on introducing legislation that would create a police advisory board.
Much like other county advisory boards that provide local officials with recommendations — for instance, the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board — Riemer’s proposed advisory board would provide recommendations on police policy.
“I think we have a growing awareness that the criminal justice system is not fair to everyone,” Riemer said. “One of the solutions to that is to bring more voices to the table and with something as significant as police powers, people really need to feel like they have a voice in the process, over how that power is exercised.”
He explained that having a forum in which members of the community can educate themselves and participate in the process could promote more trust and support for police work.
“I think we have a crisis in policing, and I do think that policing has to change. It has to go in a different direction,” Riemer said.
He noted that there is an important distinction between his ideas for an advisory board and a police oversight committee.
“The idea is to create an advisory board that can review and make recommendations about police policy matters. A policy matter is not a disciplinary matter,” Riemer explained. “It’s not about how the department handles an investigation or an allegation of wrongdoing by an officer. It’s different. It’s about policies that govern the entire department.”
He said that his legislation does not outline a board that would handle personnel investigations, as that is something that is not allowed at the state level. Instead the group would be charged with researching best practices and compiling reports about how the police department is adhering to and following those practices.
Although the legislation to create a police advisory board has not yet been introduced, Riemer said that he has some ideas on how the board should look.
He estimated that the board would have about 15 members, including from the police department and police union. He would want community members on the board who approach it seriously, Riemer said, almost like being a county councilmember.
It would also be important, he added, to have these community members take a training course so they get to know the police and the complexities of their jobs.
Riemer explained that members of the board would be expected not to use it as a platform or figuratively stand on a soap box to preach the department’s failures.
“We wouldn’t be looking for somebody who is coming to the table just to read the riot act at every turn,” he said, “but rather, someone who is really going to approach this with seriousness and an open mind.”
Riemer has been working on the legislation with help from Councilmember Jawando and community organizations such as CASA de Maryland, Identity and the NAACP.
The Montgomery County Police Department’s media office said that they are supportive of the legislation but cannot comment until it is available to be read in full.
Riemer expects to introduce his legislation on June 18, and for public hearings to be held in July.
On May 21, Jawando released a statement saying that he had sent a letter to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to urge him to create a state investigative body that would conduct independent, criminal investigations of police-involved deaths.
In his letter, Jawando noted that recent years of police distrust had worn away at relations between police and the communities they are meant to serve. Jawando said he hopes that Hogan will take executive action in his capacity as governor to create either a state investigative body or a unit within Maryland State Police or the Attorney General’s office to undertake independent investigations of police-involved deaths.
Jawando specified in his letter that the investigation would need to be independent of the department in question and that the results of the investigation should be made public. He urged that Maryland join other states — such as Illinois, Utah and Wisconsin — in creating a statewide process of investigation. Currently, every county in Maryland has its own process for investigating officer-involved death.
“While we are proud of the level of education, training and diversity of the individual officers in our Montgomery County Police Department, we also know that something must be done to restore (the) credibility of and confidence in our local police following the June 11, 2018, shooting death of 41-year-old Robert White at the hands of a MCPD officer,” Jawando wrote.
He also wrote that when someone dies at the hands of police, their families, the public and police officers as well should have investigations that are transparent and hold those responsible accountable.
“Every elected official wants the community to have the confidence to welcome police into our neighborhoods. An initiative to promote stronger ties between the community and the police is a fundamental good government effort, and one that I hope you will seriously consider,” Jawando further wrote to Hogan.