County Leaders Want More Diversity Training for Police

County Leaders Want More Diversity Training for Police

Union says officer’s ‘n-word’ remark was ‘a retort, made without any discriminatory intent’

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County Executive Marc Elrich

Dan Schere

County Executive Marc Elrich and County Council members said Friday that after they watched a 12-minute police body camera video of a white police officer using a racial slur while talking with a group of black men, there must be greater training for police officers on race and culture sensitivity.

“It’s a problem that the officer did that. There’s no excuse for it,” Elrich said.

The county executive’s comments came a day after videos were released showing an encounter between police and a group of black men outside a fast-food restaurant in White Oak. In an edited video taken by one of the men and posted on social media, and in a separate video from the officer’s camera released Thursday night by police, the unidentified officer is heard saying “nigga.”

“Whatever anybody else says, it doesn’t give you an excuse for doing what she did,” Elrich said. “The grinning and smiling into the camera as if it was a ‘Snow White’ moment was just totally wrong.”

As new details of what happened emerged on Friday, elected leaders pledged to take steps “to see that this never happens again,” said Sidney Katz, a council member who is chairman of the Public Safety Committee, which has oversight of the police force.

Police had been called Thursday morning to a McDonald’s on New Hampshire Avenue, a location that has experienced a high call volume for trespassing, loitering and drug dealing, county police spokesman Capt. Tom Jordan said in an email.

Police said they were investigating possible trespassing and loitering violations.

As many as nine officers arrived to question a group of black men who said they were waiting to be picked up for rides to work.

The department has not released information about charges or citations given to the four men who were stopped and police would not provide the names of officers on the scene, although Jordan said the female officer has been with the department for more than 10 years.

Jordan would not say whether any action has been taken against the officers and the department has not decided whether it would release additional footage from other officers’ body cameras.

The Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, which represents more than 1,400 retired and active law enforcement officers in the county, issued a statement Friday afternoon that said the body camera footage shows “a retort, made without any discriminatory intent, repeating the comment made by a male subject being detained.”

The FOP and the officers involved do not condone discriminatory language nor do they believe there should be any discriminatory practices in policing, according to the statement.

Within hours of being posted online, the 22-second edited video taken by one of the men had been viewed hundreds of times and the officer’s language drew statements of condemnation from elected leaders.

Elrich said in an interview after a new crosswalk dedication in Aspen Hill Friday afternoon that the issue of racism is not prevalent among the top leaders in the police department.

“I think there are people in the [police] department who have culture problems. I think there are people in every department, frankly, who have culture problems,” Elrich said.

“Chief [Tom]  Manger used to remind people that he hires from the human race, and it’s hard with any kind of testing to filter out any kind of things that this officer apparently thinks. So what you do is you train, and you retrain and you tell people what the expectations are and you deal with it,” he said.

Manger retired last month and Elrich in the process of hiring a new permanent police chief.

Elrich said there are about 20 applications on his desk and he expects to make a hiring decision later this summer after a community forum on policing next month. The county executive in the past has said he would like to see a woman or minority fill the top position.

He said the most important trait the next chief brings is that they set a “high standard” for what is unacceptable behavior.

Katz, in his second term on the council, was mayor of Gaithersburg for 16 years and said he had never heard of a police officer using the “n-word” during his years of public service.

Katz said he doesn’t believe there is a culture problem in the department, but that more racial equity training is needed.

“We’re looking at one police officer in the thousand plus that we have, and the thousand plus were not using this derogatory term,” he said.

Recruits receive 87 hours of diversity training, including courses on hate bias, ethics and conflict management, Jordan said. They also make trips to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of African American History. Active officers receive additional training on ethics and biased-based profiling biennially and on mental illness triennially.

The council, which includes several new members elected last fall, has promised to institute a racial equity lens when evaluated all new county policies.

Council President Nancy Navarro released a statement Friday morning stating that the officer’s comments are “not representative” of the standards expected of police officers.

“We are and will continue to be an inclusive county and it is imperative that we continue our work to engage in education and outreach to sensitize our residents on the harmful effects of racism on the residents of our communities,” she wrote.

Bethesda Beat staff writer Charlie Wright contributed to this report

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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