Strengthening police oversight

Dear Resident:

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.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

The Council Connection — housing affordability

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

The Council returns to session this week, and we have a full agenda.

Housing Affordability
The Council will introduce legislation sponsored by the members of the planning and housing committee (PHED) that will enable changes for accessory dwelling units. The legislation would allow the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs to approve applications rather than requiring hearings before the Board of Appeals. The Council is also seeking input about additional changes that could be made to enable this type of housing construction. Please share your thoughts with us by writing a note to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov. The public hearing will occur on September 11, 2018 at 1:30pm.

The Council will also take up significant legislation changing the code for our Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program – a visionary law first enacted in Montgomery County in 1973 and since copied in jurisdictions across the Country. The MPDU law requires that 12.5% of all new developments with more than 20 housing units be set aside in the County’s affordable program. The law has produced more than 11,000 affordable units since its creation (though many aged out of their control period before it was extended to 99 years). Bill 34-17, sponsored by Councilmember Floreen, would make several changes to update and strengthen the law. Bill 38-17, sponsored by Council President Riemer, would increase the requirement to 15% in the areas of the County with the least affordable housing. Both laws will be before the full Council after extensive committee discussion.

Next, a number of specific items of interest:

Council research projects
The Council’s research arm, the Office of Legislative Oversight, plans projects including: minimum wage, 311, racial equity, and student loan refinancing. The Council will approve the full work program on Tuesday.

Economic development incentives
Partnering with the State, the Council agenda includes the approval of a number of economic development incentives for the expansion of companies based in Montgomery County, including Altimmune, Abt Associates, HMS Host, and Applied Biomimetics. You can learn more here.

Arts nonprofit taking space at Silver Spring Library
After a competitive selection process, the County entered into an agreement with Arts on the Block to occupy space in the Silver Spring Library. Arts on the Block is a local non-profit organization focused on empowering creative youth. Welcome to the Silver Spring Library, Arts on the Block!

New Assistant Police Chief
The County Executive has nominated, and the Council is poised to confirm, Mr. David C. Anderson as Assistant Police Chief. The current Police Commander of District 1 station, Mr. Anderson will bring 28 years of distinguished service at MCPD to his new role.

Stormwater
We will act on a special appropriation to the County’s stormwater program. This appropriation is the result of a compromise between the County Executive and the Council that allows for greater efficiencies in our stormwater program while maintaining Council oversight.

And finally:

Update on mobile communications infrastructure
The Council recently approved carefully calibrated zoning changes in our commercial and industrial zones to speed the deployment of next-generation wireless technology. There is still work more to be done, but the Council is making progress on this important issue. Nevertheless, there are efforts underway at the FCC and in Congress to strip away our authority on siting wireless infrastructure.

To combat these efforts, this week I met with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, on behalf of the County, to share our concerns with these preemption efforts and to request an update of the decades old radio frequency (RF) emissions standards. Commissioner Carr has been designated as lead Commissioner on small cell deployments and is believed to be drafting a proposal for Commission consideration in the fall. I reiterated for Commissioner Carr the message delivered to Chairman Pai by Ike Leggett, Jamie Raskin and myself last year — that the FCC should not preempt local governments but rather work with us as partners to ensure successful deployment; and that FCC should refresh its RF standards.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

RECENT ACTIONS

  • Members of the Council’s Public Safety Committee received an update from Montgomery County Police Department officials on the department’s internal affairs investigation process, in light of the recent officer-involved shooting in Silver Spring.
  • Members of the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee reviewed bills on solar panels and climate policy, and receiving a briefing on the County’s composting and food waste plan.

The Council Connection — Council prioritizes fire and rescue services

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

This Thursday, May 24, the Council will formally approve the budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. The Council has worked hard and collaboratively throughout this process. With our remarkable staff and engaged community, we have produced a budget that is restrained and responsible, does not raise taxes, and ensures the County will continue to provide the superb services that so many of our residents appreciate so much.

I credit the County Executive with making many great decisions in his budget, including fully funding Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). The County Executive’s budget also presented some daunting challenges in public safety.

Faced with cuts that would have negatively impacted fire and rescue service in Germantown, Hyattstown, and Silver Spring, the Council found a way to change priorities to fund over $7 million for critical public safety services. This amount was about half of all of our adjustments, demonstrating the importance we place on the issue. People take for granted that when their house is on fire, or when their spouse has a heart attack, that someone will respond quickly. We prioritized that quick response time in this budget.

Last week we reviewed some highlights from the MCPS budget; this week we take a closer look at public safety.

Fire and Rescue:
The County Executive’s recommended MCFRS operating budget totaled $211 million, down 1.7% from last year. This would have cut a total of $3.5 million and 29 career firefighter positions from the Fire and Rescue Service. The most significant proposed cuts would have taken three response units out of service, including a paramedic engine in Hyattstown, a paramedic engine in Germantown, and an aerial tower in Hillandale. Together, these cuts totaled $5.8 million.

All three cuts would increase response times in the response units’ first due areas. Hyattstown and Germantown each would have increased from 6-8 minutes to 10-12 minutes. Hillandale response times for an aerial unit would have increased from eight minutes to 12 minutes. While the County Executive had a plan to transfer firefighter positions to mitigate the increased response times, the Council ultimately chose to restore funding for all three response units and provide funding for additional staffing in Burtsonsville and for volunteer firefighters. All in all, the Council provided an additional $6.5 million to Fire and Rescue.

Police:
The County Executive’s recommended Police budget totaled $279 million, up 1.5% from last year. The Police Department budget was one of the few public safety budgets that had a budget increase for FY19. However, the County Executive’s proposed budget did not include any new police officer positions, and in fact, it lapsed six police officer positions for the year.

The Council discussed School Resource Officers at length, given the “Maryland Safe to Learn” act that the General Assembly just passed this year in response to the recent school shooting in St. Mary’s County. Currently, the SRO program, which includes not only MCPD officers, but also officers from the City of Rockville Police Department, City of Gaithersburg Police Department, and the Office of the Sheriff, provides 27 officers and deputies assigned to each County public high school. These officers are also responsible for assisting with any issues within their respective middle schools. The new state law, however, requires that each Maryland jurisdiction has either an SRO or “adequate local law enforcement coverage” at every school for the 2019-2020 school year. Given the complexity and reach of the new state law, Council committees will examine the law and its mandates in more depth on July 19.

This year, however, the Council added three new SRO positions that will be assigned to middle schools. The Council also added one new vice unit detective position that will address human trafficking concerns in the County.

Sheriff:
The County Executive’s recommended Sheriff budget totaled $23 million, down 1.1% from last year. An important issue for the Sheriff’s Office this year was body worn cameras. In October 2017, the Sheriff’s Office took advantage of a free body worn camera pilot program offered through Axon, the vendor who supplies body cameras for the County Police Department. The Sheriff’s Office has 162 deputies who are outfitted with body worn cameras. These cameras are important both for accountability as well as safety purposes. Deputies are often in potentially volatile situations while serving domestic violence protective orders and mental health-related emergency evaluation petitions. This risk is especially true after the General Assembly passed additional domestic violence and gun control laws, such as the “red flag” law (HB1302) that permits the Sheriff to confiscate guns from individuals who have been deemed by the court to be an extreme risk to self or others.

The Council approved an additional $229,903 to permit the Sheriff’s Office to maintain the program through FY19.

The next few weeks we will continue our exploration of the County budget. Stay tuned.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

How do I…

… find out what items and grants the Council added to the budget?

Although the County Executive sent the Council a very good budget, the Council has the final say. The Council reconciles competing community priorities and available resources through its “reconciliation” process. This year, the Council was able to identify almost $15 million in resources to invest into critical services identified by the community. The Council also programmed over $2.8 million for grants to non-profits in the County. Check out the details here.

Statement on the County’s FY19 operating and capital budget agreement

Today we have reached agreement on the County’s FY19 Budget. I want to thank all my colleagues for your hard work and collaboration throughout this process. Working together, and with our remarkable staff, we have produced a budget that is restrained and responsible, does not raise taxes, and ensures the County will continue to provide the superb services that so many of our residents appreciate so much.

I credit the County Executive with making many great decisions in his budget, including fully funding Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). Fully funding MCPS was my highest priority and I know was very important to my colleagues as well.

Thanks to our unusual fiscal circumstances, however, the County Executive’s budget presented some daunting challenges in other areas, particularly with Public Safety.

Recognizing that this is a time for fiscal discipline, we worked to stretch our resources to meet as much of the need as we could. Most of the list that I put together, in consultation with my colleagues, focused on restoring services that we all deem to be critical.

In particular, we were able to restore $6.7 million to Fire and Rescue Services that was cut by the County Executive – this one service area is nearly one half of what we approved on the reconciliation list for FY19.

People take for granted that when their house is on fire, or when their spouse has a heart attack, that someone will respond quickly. We prioritized that quick response time in this budget.

Beyond public safety, our budget is about kids. In addition to fully funding the school’s request, we made significant progress funding services that are critical for our children.

Reflecting a strong council interest in early childhood, we added almost $1 million to expand half-day preschool to full day, in addition to the $2.5 million expansion that MCPS proposed in its budget. This significant step forward follows on last year’s effort, which converted 200 full day Head Start slots to full day in MCPS and added 40 new slots at Centro Nia. We are now on the precipice of converting all half day pre-k slots to full day, setting the table to begin expanding our pre-k services outright.

We expanded our academic and parent-engagement focused after school program, Excel Beyond the Bell, to two new elementary schools, continuing to build a program that the Council and Executive have worked together to build expand rapidly over the last several years.

We restored funding for a community health nurse who works with vulnerable, abused children, restored funding for Care for Kids, our community health clinic program for low income children, funded a drop-in center for homeless youth, expanded the smart sacks program to provide meals for kids, and added capacity for Montgomery Cares to provide health care for the uninsured.

We added funds for three new school resource officers, at the middle school level – a new focus for that successful program.

Recognizing crucial quality of life issues, we restored some proposed cuts to Parks, including an urban parks initiative, as well as to fund our planning program for future master plans, so that we can continue our important mission to reinvent how we live and grow. We supported our nonprofits and we deepened our strategic economic development programs in biotech.

And for our magnificent college, the Council’s budget funds 99.6% of the College’s tax supported request, and includes an increase of $2.75 million or 2% in local funding over FY18. It is the Council’s intent that College use its FY19 appropriation to fully-fund compensation and benefit agreements for its employees, and take any reductions needed to align its budget with the approved funding level from planned FY19 program enhancements instead. The Council recognizes that final decisions on these issues fall under the authority of the Board of Trustees.

Turning to our capital budget, once again our choices were made within a context of fiscal discipline. We reduced our borrowing amount and scheduled a continually declining borrowing level, an important step that we hope the next council will adhere to.

Despite a smaller overall construction budget, we increased the share going to school construction, including responding to the voices of the parents and students at Lee Middle School, accelerates planning for Dufief Elementary School, and funds $25 million more for School construction than the Executive originally recommended.

We also added an exciting new project, a new facility for STEM learning and innovation for kids, partnered with the KID Museum and the City of Rockville, to be located right in the heart of the county, near the Twinbrook Metro.

We shifted transportation priorities towards bike and pedestrian infrastructure, added planning dollars for Bus Rapid Transit, and shifted our bus fleet purchases towards electric vehicles.

None of this would have been possible, of course, without our remarkable staff. I want to thank our new Council Staff Executive Director, Marlene Michaelson, who has ably led us through her first budget at the helm. Jacob Sesker, Linda McMillan and the rest of our hardworking staff provided excellent professional support, and I am grateful for their contributions as well. But this was truly a team effort, with important contributions not only from all of the professional staff but also the dedicated members of every council member’s office. Great work, team.

I also want to acknowledge that for four of my colleagues, this will be their final budget, as a Councilmember anyway. Their accomplishments speak for themselves, but their legacy will be marked this year in our new budget as it has in every budget during their time at this dais.

Finally, I would like to recognize Steve Farber. Our work this year benefited greatly from the incredible organization he built.

With appreciation, I will now turn to my colleagues, who will highlight many of the significant initiatives included in this budget.