County weighs calls for police ‘defunding’ against need for social services

County weighs calls for police ‘defunding’ against need for social services

Council members, chief, union leader dissect the considerations

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Screen capture from Zoom

Montgomery County officials are hearing pleas from some in the community that the police department needs to be “defunded” in the wake of the death of a black man in Minneapolis last month.

Defunding refers to redirecting some money from policing into social services, mental health treatment and other community programs.

Following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died on May 25 after a white police officer pinned him to the ground with his knee, “defunding of police” has become an idea raised as part of the protest movement.

Multiple questions about whether to defund Montgomery County’s police department surfaced on Monday evening, during a town hall on policing organized by Council Member Tom Hucker’s office.

Hucker responded to one question, which asked if funding should instead be put into social services, by saying he was “sympathetic to the question.”

“Philosophically, I’m of the opinion there’s a national conversation going on about this, that we really need to reimagine public safety,” he said. “We need to, as a priority, invest in the mental health services that we need, the public education that we need and affordable housing that we need. … If we adequately invested in the needs in those other areas, I think we would need a lot less investment in public safety.”

Hucker later said the county needs to fund more crisis intervention staff positions.

Hucker added that he hopes to one day see a county where officers don’t have to focus on other types of crises unrelated to public safety.

“The school that my kids go to, they have a part-time doctor, they have multiple nurses, they have multiple social workers dealing with many of those problems, so that teachers don’t have to,” he said. “We have to get to a point where police officers are in the same place. They’re focused on public safety, and we have social workers and other adequately trained staff dealing with these other social problems.

Torrie Cooke, the president of the county’s police union, cautioned against shifting money away from the police department. The county needs to provide adequate funding for appropriate training for 1,200 officers, he said.

“When we talk about crisis intervention, I worked in a family violence center with social workers, and we teamed up together. So I think it’s important that police have a role, and social workers have a role, but you have to pay for that,” he said.

Police Chief Marcus Jones said during the town hall meeting that there has been a “disinvestment” by politicians in years past in mental health services, putting a strain on officers because more people with mental illness have been left on the streets.

“That’s created a major problem in law enforcement, because we’ve been left to deal with those individuals in many situations,” he said.

Jones said the police department is working with the Police Executive Research Forum, a police research organization in Washington, D.C., to begin Integrating Communications Assessment and Tactics, or ICAT, training.

ICAT training is used by officers when dealing with people who are “behaving erratically” but don’t have a gun, according to the website of the Police Executive Research Forum.

“We’ll be looking to implement that to embrace and enhance our de-escalation training as we move forward. These are some significant trainings that need to happen,” Jones said.

Monday’s town hall meeting included a focus on police tactics. Council Member Will Jawando said the county needs to “move away from” the type of policing that involves “stopping people, taking a picture, and fingerprinting.”

“That erodes trust,” he said.

Jones responded by saying that fingerprinting in the street was not happening. He said when police want to find someone’s identity but the person doesn’t have a form of ID, officers sometimes use a device in which a subject puts their finger on it, and the information is compared to a database and used to identify the person.

“We have had success in finding individuals who have been rapists in our community and who have committed murder in our community as a result of that, as they tried to be devious in not identifying themselves,” he said.

Jawando said there was one case in which a group of people was stopped and fingerprinted, to which Jones responded that he knew which case the council member was referring to and it was for a pedestrian safety violation.

“They were walking on the wrong side of the street, which is against the law,” he said.

“We had a lot of our citizens who were killed as a pedestrian earlier this year that people had grave concerns about,” he continued.

Jawando said police can educate citizens “without taking their ID.”

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

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