2021 | Government

Bills aimed at police accountability, training would make body cameras mandatory

Police union official supports one bill, has reservations about other

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The Montgomery County Council is considering two policing bills that would increase accountability — such as the mandatory use of body cameras — and add training requirements in areas such as listening and equity.

A bill sponsored Tuesday by Council President Tom Hucker requires body cameras for all county police officers in uniform, or those who display a badge or insignia.

It also requires the county police department’s Internal Affairs Division to review any body camera footage and report to the police chief any case related to the use of force, involving children younger than 18, a potential criminal offense, or a fatality and serious bodily injury, among other circumstances.

A separate bill sponsored by Council Member Will Jawando focuses on training. Before attending the county’s police academy, candidates would have to go through a five-week, 30-hour training course.

The program, which Montgomery College would help create, would include lessons on:

  • racial equity and social justice
  • community policing
  • policing history
  • active listening and conflict resolution
  • civic engagement

Lee Holland, corporation vice president for Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 — the county’s police union — supports Hucker’s bill.

Holland told Bethesda Beat on Tuesday that he worked closely with Hucker and he considers the “added transparency” through body cameras for every uniformed officer a positive.

Hucker’s bill — co-sponsored by Jawando and Council Members Evan Glass, Hans Riemer, Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice — also creates more reporting requirements through the Internal Affairs Division, including monthly reports to the chief about active cases.

The chief must tell the County Council and the county executive about those cases within 24 hours.

There also would be a log of each time body-worn camera footage is either accessed or redacted from the county’s database, identifying which person did so.

Holland said a new logging system for accessing and redacting body camera footage would be an improvement. Currently, flash drives may be used to access and distribute that video, making it difficult to track who accessed it.

Hucker said Tuesday his legislation was in part prompted by a January 2020 incident at East Silver Spring Elementary School, where a 5-year-old boy was harassed and berated by two officers who responded when the boy walked from school.

One officer forcefully grabbed the boy as they took him back to the school and later put the boy in handcuffs to scare him into better behavior. The other officer put her face inches away from the boy’s and screamed several times, mimicking his crying.

The boy’s family is suing the county and the school district over the treatment.

Acting quickly through proposed legislation was important, Hucker said.

“It is abuse, and I think anyone would have a very emotional reaction from that, and that’s why this horrible incident generated critical press, making Montgomery County look terrible on three or four continents,” he said in an interview Monday. “I reacted not only as a policymaker, but also because I’m a parent of young children.”

The police department has declined to say what disciplinary action was taken against the two officers, only that they still work for the department, with no other specifics.

In Jawando’s police bill, of which Riemer is a co-sponsor, candidates would be evaluated based on their performance in the training program. It would create similar continuing educational requirements for police leadership.

Jawando has been heavily involved in police reform legislation since he was elected in 2018. He told Bethesda Beat on Tuesday that better training will lead to better officers serving residents in their community.

At a news conference Tuesday, Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard called Jawando’s legislation a “defining moment” for the county and college.

“It is incumbent among all of us to play an active role in this,” Pollard said of police reform. “It takes all of our community to keep us safe, healthy, vibrant and to ensure this is the place we want to live.”

Holland said Jawando’s bill is well intentioned, but he was concerned about the resources it would take officers to help run the courses. He also said it could make it more difficult to recruit officers.

Holland didn’t oppose the course itself, but suggested it could be scheduled to run at the same time as the county’s police academy, not before.

The continuing education aspect of the bill also could create more work for the department, he said.

“The more training the better, it’s just how much time we have to do it. … The problem is we don’t have enough people to backfill the positions to do all the training, all the time,” Holland said.

Jawando said the 30-hour course is useful for evaluation, but he does not oppose possibly moving it into the academy training, which could be decided during the legislative process in the coming weeks.

But Jawando insisted that the extra training is needed, and argued it would attract better candidates — “guardians, not warriors.”

“I would say that’s someone we don’t want to be a police officer here. These are skills I think you need anywhere in 21st-century policing,” Jawando said about candidates turned off by the 30-hour course.

Many prospective officers could come from Montgomery College, where 600 are currently majoring in criminal justice, he said.

Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz said in an interview that Hucker and Jawando’s bills align with prior police reform bills that the council passed.

Albornoz, who sits on the council’s public safety and health and human service committees, said it’s important to assist police officers and all first responders in their daily work.

“It’s a difficult job on a good day, and we do ask a lot — sometimes too much with police officers,” Albornoz said. “In addition to these really important police reform bills that are moving us in a direction of change, we also should see what we need to do to support first responders.”

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com