Strengthening police oversight
June 18, 2019
As a community that provides leadership on important issues, Montgomery County has an opportunity to strengthen police work by building greater community support.
I know that we have an excellent Police Department – full of conscientious and highly professional public servants.
But we are obviously not immune from the challenges that communities all over the country are facing.
“Policing needs to go in a different direction on transparency and community engagement,” a local police chief recently shared with me as we discussed the situation around the Country and here at home. “Where we are now isn’t working.”
That is why, on June 18th, I am introducing legislation with Councilmember Will Jawando, supported by the NAACP, Identity, Casa de Maryland, ACLU, Jews United for Justice and other groups, to establish a Policing Advisory Commission.
The Commission would allow for “civilian” participation in Police Department policy formulation, using data and focusing on best practices, and strengthening the Council’s oversight role.
Unlike civilian oversight boards in other jurisdictions, this Commission would not address disciplinary matters. It would not review complaints about an officer, or investigate a police-involved incident. While those are crucial matters, Maryland state law denies a body like this jurisdiction over personnel matters.
Instead, this Commission would focus on the policies that could prevent these incidents from occurring in the first place. For example:
- Community police — how can we become more of a community police force?
- De-escalation training — is our program a best practice and is it well implemented?
- Traffic stops — what are the outcomes from traffic stops? What does the data show? What is the cost/benefit?
There is no doubt that issues like these are appropriate for public discussion and oversight. In fact, given the profound consequences of police action, there is nothing more deserving of public discussion and oversight.
Historically, these kinds of policy issues are often addressed internally at the Department, with the police leadership making policy decisions with minimal oversight from the County Executive and Council and limited input from the public.
That is where a Commission comes in. With members drawn from residents who are experts in criminal justice policy as well as representing communities that have not always been heard on police issues, the body would meet and deliberate over policy matters that are of significant public concern. Researchers would support the Commission to help ensure a data-driven conversation.
The Commission would make recommendations to the Department and the County Council. A great example of this approach is successfully operating in Sacramento, where the initiative has earned support not only from community groups but also the police department there.
A strong coalition is advocating for the bill because, as the groups recently wrote in a letter to the Council and County Executive, the Commission “will become an important pathway to enhance trust between the community and the Police Department.”
You may have seen a recent editorial in the Washington Post about the proposal. The Post stated:
With more than 1 million residents, Montgomery is Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction. It is a bellwether and a leader whose example could prompt other localities to fashion more meaningful civilian oversight of law enforcement. It can move proactively now, or be forced to act later, under pressure and amid controversy, when an unwarranted death occurs at the hands of police. The former is the smarter way to go.
I agree, and I look forward to working through the legislative process with my Council colleagues over this summer and into the fall.
A public hearing is tentatively set for July 9 with committee and full Council worksessions to follow.
Thanks for reading and participating. If you have feedback, please share by emailing me at Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov.