Montgomery County Council approves policy on limiting police use of force

Council approves policy on limiting police use of force, no-knock warrants

Legislation prohibits chokeholds; police union objects to some changes

| Published:

The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved a policy that restricts police use of force.

Photo from Montgomery County Police

This story was updated at 12:23 p.m. on July 30, 2020, to include additional details about the bill.

The Montgomery County Council unanimously passed legislation on Wednesday limiting the police department’s use of force, part of an effort to address local and national concerns about law enforcement brutality in the community.

A police union official on Thursday criticized some of the changes put in place, saying they will make it impossible for officers to do their job.

The legislation limits and restricts certain actions and adds conditions, which include:
● Neck and carotid restraints (prohibited completely)
● Use of deadly force against someone fleeing
● Striking a restrained individual
● Shooting from or at a moving vehicle
● Less lethal force

The final version of the bill was not posted as of Thursday morning.

The bill also addresses effects on criminal and civil liability and treatment of certain populations such as people with disabilities. It includes a provision exempting the policy from collective bargaining with Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, the local union.

It requires police officers to stop, or attempt to stop, other officers from using excessive force or violating policies. No retaliation or discipline can be brought against an officer for reporting it to supervisors.

The bill also places restrictions on high-risk, no-knock warrants, which have been heavily discussed by council members and Police Chief Marcus Jones in past meetings. No-knock warrants let police officers enter a house without first knocking or identifying themselves.

The risk of no-knock warrants has recently been a focus with the death of Breonna Taylor, a woman fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department officers during a no-knock warrant in her home on March 13.

In Montgomery County, no-knock warrants are only performed by SWAT team members and have to be approved by a supervisor, an executive officer and a judge. The police department’s policy was that no-knock warrants could only be sought when someone has a history of violence or illegally has weapons.

Jones has defended the police department in the past and said that only three no-knock warrants have involved shootings in more than 40 years. In 2019, 140 search warrants were executed, which included 108 no-knock warrants.

The police department submitted its own amendments to the bill concerning no-knock warrants, which the council then amended.

The amendments codified the department’s current policy, but included that the no-knock warrants can only be performed under “exigent,” or emergency, circumstances — if other methods of serving the warrant would pose a risk to the life or safety of people, if a crime of violence is involved, if the person in the home is violent, if there is a crime related to firearms possession or if there is suspicion that the home is booby-trapped.

Crimes of violence include child abuse, child pornography, domestic violence and terrorism.

County police can’t seek or participate in a no-knock warrant if the only reason for entering is to prevent the destruction of evidence.

The police department must provide an annual public report on no-knock warrants.

The council approved the modified amendments 8-1. Council Member Will Jawando was the only member who voted against passing them because he felt that the restrictions were too broad and needed to be tightened further.

The council unanimously approved the entire bill, including the amendments.

County officials also unanimously approved legislation that creates a new civilian assistant police chief position that will head a new bureau to oversee the department’s Community Engagement Division, Policy and Planning Division, and Public Information Office.

Council President Sidney Katz said the council’s process of developing the bill was an “unbelievable ride.”

“Because we respected each other’s opinions, we ended up — I believe — not in a perfect place, but a far better place, because of it. … We tried our best to come up with something that is going to be, what I believe is workable,” he said.

Council Member Craig Rice noted that the council can always revisit the policy and make changes if necessary.

Jawando said he was glad the county dramatically limited the use of no-knock warrants and put forth a comprehensive policy.

“This is going to have a dramatic impact,” he said. “One of the reasons why I was so passionate about this change is because it’s directly a response to what we saw, the protests that we saw and the level of force that was used, the inhumanity against George Floyd.”

Floyd, who was Black, died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed his knee on his neck for several minutes during an arrest, while Floyd was pinned to the ground. His death sparked protests across the country.

Council Member Gabe Albornoz said the council is moving in the right direction by making important changes.

“I know there’s tremendous urgency and a feeling from some that we may not even be moving fast enough, but I just want to acknowledge and take a step back and look at what we’ve been able to accomplish with this bill and all the bills that have preceded it,” he said. “And what’s coming, as well — that balances the need to ensure we have public safety for all, acknowledges the incredibly difficult work that it is to be in law enforcement and how hard of a job it is.”

But Lee Holland, corporation vice president of the FOP Lodge 35, said in an interview Thursday morning that the policy is going to make it impossible for officers to keep themselves and the public safe. The union represents more than 1,200 police employees in the county.

He said that under the bill, police officers won’t be able to detain someone on reasonable suspicion.

“The standard now is you have to have probable cause,” he said.

Holland said he agreed with the changes made to the no-knock warrants to still allow them in extreme circumstances.

The union is more concerned about the inability to physically stop someone on reasonable suspicion, restrictions on less lethal force, and the ban on all use of chokeholds, he said.

“Our members have been silenced in this because [county officials] have not published any of our letters,” Holland said. “They say they have 4,000 emails from the community, but they have not shared those. They talk about work products shared with the police department. That’s all public record that should be shared with this bill.”

In a letter to Katz on Tuesday, Holland wrote that the bill would “cause confusion and obstruct the ability of our law enforcement officers to keep Montgomery County safe.”

Holland said the FOP contacted each council member, but did not receive any responses.

Police officers will need to be immediately retrained under the new policy, he said, or they will be “set up to fail and put officers in jeopardy of their jobs.”

“Officers are going to be coming to work walking on eggshells right now not knowing what they can do and what they can’t do,” Holland said.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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