ROCKVILLE — The Montgomery County Council received a briefing from Acting Montgomery County Police (MCP) Chief Marcus Jones on July 23 about the challenges facing the police and strategies to improve relations between the police and the community.
President Nancy Navarro and Vice President Sidney Katz, who also serves as the chair for the council’s public safety committee, requested that Acting Chief Jones brief the council on recent incidents involving the police. During the briefing, the councilmembers and representatives from MCP discussed issues such as community policing, trust and de-escalation.
“This briefing was requested because we have come to a point where we as a legislative body need to work with our partners in law enforcement to examine what underlying conditions led to the particular incidents in Aspen Hill and in White Oak, and how we can all work together to reestablish trust between members of law enforcement and communities,” Navarro said.
Navarro noted that this fall, she and other members of the council will be working on legislation that more clearly defines community policing.
“We cannot seem to pin down in a short blurb what (community policing is),” she said. “Everyone has a slightly different idea as to what community policing means, and it is time that we all get on the exact same page. It is my hope to use this legislation as an opportunity to frame future discussions on policing and create a more-concrete structure to guide MCPD’s efforts.”
Acting Chief Jones noted that recent incidents in White Oak and Aspen Hill between members of the community and the police have raised concern within the police administration.
Back in May, a White MCP officer used a racial slur when interacting with four unarmed, African American individuals who were waiting to be picked up for work at a McDonald’s in White Oak.
The other incident in Aspen Hill involved an officer using his knee to force a suspect’s head into the ground during an arrest. Video footage showed the individual bloodied from the altercation.
“I know that there has been a tremendous amount of concern, particularly in light of the two incidents we’ve had recently that have gained much attention in our community, and those incidents have given this police administration a lot of pause, by which I mean aggravation and disappointment on our department’s performance,” Jones said.
He noted that although MCP and police departments around the United States have made strides to improve their policing methods, they still have a long way to go.
Jones highlighted three facets of community policing that MCP practices: community partnerships, organizational transformation and problem-solving.
“I believe there is a road to healing, and it starts with working with individuals and communities to gain trust; we must develop relationships in order to achieve this goal,” Jones said. “I have several plans that I will begin to implement immediately to address problems.”
He noted that these plans include strengthening community policing practices and increasing racial equity in interactions with community members. The police department also will be undergoing further implicit bias and cultural sensitivity training, according to Jones.
He also recognized that having an open dialogue about race is difficult.
“When you take (conversations on race) to policing it takes it to a different level,” Jones said. “When we look at the history of policing in America – you could even say the history of policing in Montgomery County – there are negative stories all throughout history.”
Jones underscored the success Charleston, South Carolina has had in improving relations between the community and the police through their initiative called The Charleston Illumination Project.
The project uses community listening sessions, recommendations from national studies, and input from the police department itself to increase the trust and legitimacy of the community in the police.
He noted that the project has managed to bridge the gap between the police and the community. Jones also announced that he is committed to creating a working group within MCPD to look at best practices.
During the discussion period, councilmembers took time to ask the acting chief and other representatives questions about everything from crime statistics to school resource officers.
Councilmember Tom Hucker asked for further explanation about protocols for police officers before they draw their firearms.
Assistant Chief David Anderson explained that in any given situation methods of de-escalation can differ.
“De-escalation can look like a lot of different things,” Anderson said. “There is a school of thought which has merit to it that if you so much as take out your taser and cycle it so somebody knows that you have a taser, while you may not use it, that can help get someone’s attention and de-escalate the situation.”
He went on to explain that the department is always looking for new technology that is effective and still safer to use.
At the end of the discussion with the acting chief and other members of MCP, Councilmember Evan Glass asked for advice that Jones would offer the next chief of police.
“My recommendation to the next police chief is that they have to stay on the road of really training and driving the point home about professionalism in this police department,” Jones said. “When we talk about professionalism we mean the decorum, the speech and the engagement and really taking it to the highest level.”