2021 | Government

Crisis training, focus on Taser use among 87 recommendations of police task force

Recommendations also include eliminating school resource officer program

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County Executive Marc Elrich discussed the recommendations of his Reimagining Public Safety Task Force on Thursday.

Screenshot via Zoom

A Montgomery County task force on police is calling for crisis training for recruits and an emphasis on Taser use among the 87 recommendations it shared on Thursday. The group also wants to eliminate the use of school-based police officers.

County Executive Marc Elrich formed the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force last summer to audit policies, procedures and data from the police department “in response to the nationwide and local furor over racial justice,” according to a summary in the report.

The 41-member task force is made up of area law enforcement agency representatives, county employees, union representatives and others in the community. It has been meeting since September, with Bernice Mireku-North and Marc Mauer as co-chairs.

Elrich’s task force is separate from a similar 13-member police advisory commission the County Council created over the summer.

On Thursday, Elrich’s task force released its final report, with recommendations including:

  • 911 calls: direct some to non-law enforcement agencies such as mental health and domestic violence agencies; improve services for non-English speakers; conduct a racial bias audit.
  • Eliminate police training programs with connections to military training.
  • Shift responses to calls for people with mental illness out of the police department and into the Department of Health and Human Services
  • Increase recruitment at historically Black colleges and universities
  • Require crisis intervention training for new recruits and less lethal weapons training, with a greater emphasis on Taser training.
  • Change use-of-force policies, such as limiting the use of the K-9 unit and limiting how often officers may carry their firearms.
  • Review misdemeanor and minor traffic offenses by “weighing the cost and harm of arrest and prosecution against the public safety benefits”; look at racial disparities in traffic penalties
  • Increase the use of alternatives to incarceration, such as mediation and restorative justice

The report released Thursday also includes multiple recommendations about the school resource officer (SRO) program, in which officers are based in schools. One recommendation is to eliminate SROs and replace them with counselors. Another is to eliminate “SRO programs and corresponding budget lines.”

Opponents of the SRO program have argued that having police officers stationed in schools leads to disproportionate arrests of Black and Hispanic students, and can make some students feel unsafe. Supporters say a school is safer if a police officer work there.

The task force says it supports a bill introduced in the fall by County Council Members Hans Riemer and Will Jawando that would prohibit officers from being stationed in school buildings. Council Members Craig Rice and Sidney Katz introduced a counter bill this week that keeps officers in schools with the superintendent’s permission.

During a virtual meeting Thursday afternoon to review the task force recommendations, Mireku-North said public input helped the group formulate its recommendations. A public forum was held in December. A survey went out in November.

Not everyone on the task force agreed on all of the recommendations, Mireku-North said. But there was a consensus among five focus groups, devoted to:
• emergency calls
• budget
• police department programs
• alternative programs to police and jail
• health, social services and crisis response.

“We found that Montgomery County has a plethora of excellent organizations and agencies that are working to achieve the needs of the community, but they’re not always working together,” Mireku-North said.

One recommendation on which there was disagreement was to reduce the number of patrol officers by 50% in police districts 3 (Silver Spring area) and 4 (Wheaton area). A community member on the task force said it would be “more pragmatic” to have the number of patrol officers that is proportional to the population density.

“It would also be useful to see the conviction rate in relation to the over-policing of these areas, as many believe,” the community member, who was not identified, said in the report.

Additionally, the report states that there was a “lack of alignment” between residents, county leaders and law enforcement on the importance of racial equity. The task force considered multiple oversight reports that have documented higher rates of traffic stops, arrests and uses of force for Blacks than white residents.

“Despite clear documentation of these patterns over several years, community members of this focus group perceived MCPD stakeholders to have a staunch belief that the department is a model agency that does not need to make improvements on racial equity outcomes,” the report stated.

“That belief has been expressed frequently to members of this working group, to the whole task force, and in public comments. Community members’ attempts to address clearly reported data indicating racial disparities were met with MCPD stakeholders justifying actions that lead to disparities and ignoring the existence of disparities.”

The report released Thursday states that Elrich’s administration has the authority to prioritize the recommendations and determine how to implement them. In the process, he will work with other local, state and federal “partners.”

Elrich, on Thursday, called the task force’s report “thoughtful, thorough and balanced.”

“Some of the recommendations are simple and we can act quickly on them. Others are aspirational, requiring more time to work through how they’re going to be implemented,” he said.

When a reporter asked Elrich to elaborate on what changes would be possible faster, he said police traffic stops and searches of vehicles might be areas to explore.

“Policing in general requires an officer to complete the stops as quickly as possible, with no diversion into other areas outside of the reason they stopped the person,” he said. “And that, of course, has come into question when we see some of the videotapes of some of the people trying to probe and search vehicles.”

Elrich added that the county has talked to providers to improve the county’s crisis intervention services in responding to calls for service.

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