Activists push back against community policing bill

Activists push back against community policing bill

Some residents oppose call for more school resource officers

| Published:
SROs

Community activists protested Tuesday against a proposed bill that would expand the use of police officers in Montgomery County Public Schools.

Photo by Kate Masters

All nine County Council members listened quietly on Tuesday during an emotionally charged public hearing on a proposed community policing bill.

The legislation — unanimously sponsored by the council — seemed like the perfect new venture for a group of legislators known for espousing twin values of racial equity and social justice. The bill would set specific standards for community policing, requiring officers to “ensure cultural competency” and “provide adequate training in de-escalation tactics.”

It would set new standards for reporting, requiring Montgomery County police to file annual reports on officer diversity and use of force. And it would direct the department to “maintain and expand the School Resource Officer Program, in recognition of its value to the community,” referring to police officers stationed in schools.

The last requirement drove more than two dozen community activists to the Council Office Building, yielding green paper signs with slogans such as “Kids need counselors, not cops.” Community opponents cited the American Civil Liberties Union’s “Bullies in Blue” report, which documented dozens of instances when students were referred to school resource officers for typical youthful misbehavior.

It also inspired some parents to recount their own experiences with Montgomery County officers stationed in local public schools. Chevy Chase mother Tiffany Kelly said she was still traumatized after police questioned her fourth-grade son for handing out play money to classmates on a public school bus.

School officials didn’t notify her that police had been called until the end of the day, Kelly said. Her son, “a young, black male child” with learning disabilities, was especially vulnerable during encounters with law enforcement. 

Kelly said she had to seek professional counseling to cope with her fears after the incident.

“To think what could have happened to my son — being questioned by someone who is not trained to interact with children like him — sends a cold chill through my body,” Kelly said during the hearing. “There will be unintended consequences if this bill is passed, and those unintended consequences will affect people like me and my son at far greater rates than anyone else in this country.”

Several activists also questioned why the council was proposing the new legislation before other equity laws went into effect. Laurel Hoa, a supporter of the Montgomery County chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), pointed out that the county’s recently passed Racial Equity and Social Justice Act will require all new bills to include an equity impact statement by Aug. 1.

The county’s new police advisory commission — established in early December — could also provide data-driven feedback on school resource officers, Hoa said. She accused council members of endorsing the legislation to fit an agenda, rather than out of real interest for social justice policies.

“Trying to ram this bill through makes it seem like the council does not care what research says,” Hoa said. “… It makes it seem like you know the equity analysis would be disastrous — and counter to the policies you’re pushing — but you want to create these policies anyway.”

Council Member Craig Rice, a leading sponsor on all three bills, disputed that the council would ignore possible impacts of the proposed legislation just because it wasn’t accompanied by a racial equity statement. “I mean, why wouldn’t Nancy Navarro, who led the effort to create this policy, evaluate this bill on her own?” he asked after the meeting.

Given the community feedback, council members would consider removing the section of the bill that calls for adding school resource officers, Rice added. But he also emphasized that the legislation was an important effort to re-establish community trust in law enforcement — especially in areas of the county that benefit from officer involvement.

“If these folks were to go to Germantown Estates Park — where people have been murdered in Montgomery County — they’re going to say they want police in their community,” Rice said after the meeting. “So, it’s our job to make sure our police department, which is paid to serve and protect, does just that.

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