ROCKVILLE – A proposed Policing Advisory Commission designed to study police department practices, and whose members would be chosen by councilmembers and the county executive, was both praised as a good start and demonized for its lack of teeth on July 9.
A bill sponsored by Councilman Hans Reimer called for a 13-member commission to examine the policies, training and discipline of the Montgomery County Police Department (MCP). It would neither investigate individual incidents nor have the power to do anything but make recommendations.
Each of the county’s nine council members would appoint one member, and County Executive Marc Elrich would name the four others.
The commission also would have two ex-officio members, one from the police and one from its police union.
Including police representation concerned many who testified during the two-hour public hearing on July 8. They complained that police presence would defeat the purpose of a civilian review board.
During a press conference prior to the public hearing, Councilmembers Reimer, Nancy Navarro, Evan Glass and Will Jawando all spoke in favor of the commission, as did Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones and Julio Murillo of CASA de Maryland.
Referring to recent incidents in which police officers were seen on social media using the n-word and bloodying a suspect’s face, the council members said they saw the need for residents to have a voice in helping the police department be trusted by all residents.
“We are all here because we are accountable for this,” Reimer said. “We need to reinvent policy.”
He called the commission “an extension of our oversight role.”
Reimer said he hoped commission members would look into such areas as discipline, training to deal with people with mental issues and other disabilities, and best practices of other departments throughout the country.
“There is nothing more important to us than making sure public safety is number one,” agreed County Council President Navarro.
While those stressed there are many good men and women on the force, they said they saw room for improvement.
“The Montgomery County Police Department is by no means a perfect organization,” said Jones.
He said he looked forward to commission meetings in which the police could explain how they work and what some of their constraints are.
While backing the commission, Jones acknowledged there is “concern for us in the police world” that this commission could destroy morale when officers believe the community is against those “who are, by the way, are putting their lives on the line every day.”
Police understand that wherever they go and whatever they do ,most likely will be filmed and put on social media.
“This is a tough profession,” he said, adding that despite it all, the crime rate in the county is three times below the national average.
During the press conference, Jawando called creation of the commission “really a good step forward.”
It is necessary, he said, to see why “nearly half of the arrests” made here concern African Americans, “and we represent 19%” of the county’s population.
Glass said there was a need for “honest conversations,” noting numerous residents have spoken to him about negative encounters between the police and members of the LGBTQ community.
Many group leaders spoke in favor of the proposed commission, including CASA de Maryland, the NAACP, Jews United for Justice, the ACLU of Maryland and Identity.
However, members of Showing Up for Racial Justice noted they could not support the commission unless members were elected, rather than appointed. They also opposed having any police or police union representation.
Torrie Cooke, president of Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 35 – which represents 1,200 officers – called the commission “well-intentioned,” but said he was concerned that it would turn the department into a statistics-driven force.
The problem is not specific policies or a few rogue officers, he said. “It’s police leadership.”
The department used to work under the concept of community policing but now focuses more on making arrests and issuing numerous traffic citations, Cooke said.
Numbers of arrests are posted with the idea of shaming other officers who do not make as many, Cooke said.
He would like the police and community members to talk together, “but when you talk about policies, that won’t happen,” he said.
Resident Will Milam of Poolesville was also opposed to the commission, telling council members, “It’s your job to police the police. Don’t delegate it to someone else.”
Melissa Goemann of Jews United for Justice said she was “troubled by what’s happening to people of color here,” and that while she favors the commission, she would prefer its meetings to be public and include time for public comment.
To include the community most impacted by bad policing, Goemann suggested that commission members be paid, so they could afford to participate.
The proposal calls only for reimbursement of expenses.
As people entered the council meeting, about a dozen protesters waved signs and chanted slogans against the proposed commission.
State Delegate Gabriel Acevero (D-39) addressed the protestors, calling the commission “another bureaucratic entity” done simply for political expediency.
At various times, the protestors called the police “racists” and its department, “toxic.”
One of the women participating in the protest continued shouting during the press conference and the beginning of the public hearing, frequently interrupting speakers.
She yelled, “We are still not safe. We are still not safe from the police,” and called the commission “cosmetic. You are standing by while our blood is being spilled.”
If approved by the council, the commission would start up in the fall.