Council creates Police Advisory Commission
December 4, 2019
I am pleased to let you know that the County Council unanimously passed legislation I authored to establish a Police Advisory Commission.
I am writing to share some background about the proposal and what I hope it can achieve. You can watch a video of my remarks at Council here.
I support our police officers without hesitation. They serve our community under tremendous pressure. We are all fortunate for the work they do, day in and day out, to keep us safe.
I also support police reform, because the police profession needs to constantly evolve and improve as our challenges change. And like jurisdictions across the country, we too have our share of issues that need to be addressed.
Montgomery County needs to be an active part of the solution by embracing an approach that centers police work in community participation and community values. That kind of foundation will build community support for our officers, who need and deserve it, and improve public safety. That is the goal of the Policing Advisory Commission.
While some communities have created Civilian Oversight Boards that investigate and prosecute complaints against officers, that is not what this Board is about. This board will not get involved in personnel disputes.
Rather, the Police Advisory Commission will bring together community leaders and policy experts along with departmental leadership and union representatives to review policies and recommend best practices — seeking to help things go right, rather than reacting after things have gone wrong.
What are the policy issues? For example:
- Mental health — how are our officers trained to respond to identify and respond to someone with mental health challenges?
- Marijuana — how do our officers respond when they identify marijuana, and why?
- Data — what data does the department collect and share and how can that be improved?
- Discipline — is the Department’s disciplinary process effective and fair?
The list goes on; as you can hopefully see, these are powerful issues that profoundly affect how our communities experience policing.
The body may not always agree, but there will be dialogue and hopefully more understanding. Policy recommendations are always stronger when different points of view are heard.
The board will make recommendations for action to the department, County Executive and County Council.
I began work on this critical issue after the tragic death of Robert White, a Silver Spring resident with mental health challenges who died in an officer-involved shooting. At the time I served as Council President, and felt strongly that the County needed to respond and so I set out to identify solutions in partnership with the NAACP.
Then working closely with a coalition we assembled including the NAACP, Identity, Casa, Jews United for Justice, and the ACLU, we considered the kind of Civilian Oversight Board that other communities have adopted, but we chose a different approach in light of Maryland law, which would render any such body toothless.
Instead, we came together around a policy-focused advisory board because we believe this approach can build more consensus and support while providing a structure to raise challenging issues and discuss them in an open and transparent manner.
Our work was boosted by the arrival and support of Councilmember Will Jawando, who has championed criminal justice reform. Sidney Katz, chair of our Public Safety Committee and now Council president, provided crucial support as did Councilmembers Tom Hucker and Evan Glass who were co-sponsors.
Putting community values at the center of police work is an urgent mission. We’ll soon seek funding to provide research support for the Commission, and I will be sure to notify youwhen the application period is open.
We’ll be looking for great candidates with a track record of community engagement and interest in police matters — people who are ready to tackle these issues with the seriousness that they deserve, as well as the respect that our officers deserve.
Stay tuned. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading!
Chair, Planning, Housing, & Economic Development Committee