2021 | Government

UPDATED: Montgomery County police didn’t collect required data on traffic stops for 14 years, report says

Report cites agreement with police union as a factor in the lack of reporting

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This story was updated at 8:45 p.m. on Sept. 3, 2021, to include comments from County Executive Marc Elrich and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 Corporation Vice President Lee Holland

Data for an unknown number of traffic stops by Montgomery County police officers weren’t reported to the department or the state, as required by law, according to a recent report from the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight.

The revelation is one of several aspects detailed in the July 27 report to the County Council on traffic enforcement in the county.

A state law from 2001 requires that officers report data on every traffic stop to the local law enforcement agency. The data are then shared with the Maryland Statistical Analysis Center. An aim of the law was to analyze data on the race of drivers being stopped in Maryland.

The county negotiated an agreement with Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, the county’s police union, in 2007 that allows an officer to give their business card to a driver they are stopping in place of issuing a written citation, according to the report. The officer must still tell the driver the reason they are being stopped.

“Based on this provision in the County’s collective bargaining agreement with the FOP, Executive Branch representatives told [the Office of Legislative Oversight] that an unknown number of reportable traffic stops performed by MCPD officers from 2007 to January 2021 have occurred where data have not been collected, recorded, and reported to MCPD and the State, as required under state law,” the report states.

Lee Holland, the corporation vice president for the union, told Bethesda Beat on Friday that the onus is on the police department to obtain information on each traffic stop and report it to the state. That has always been possible for the last 14 years due to the fact that all traffic stops have been recorded with a camera in that time, he said.

“All traffic stops have been video-documented at least since 2015 with body cameras, and before that with [police] car cameras,” he said.

“If that was the case that the department thought they were missing information, they obviously had a way of gathering that information through cameras.”

Police Chief Marcus Jones told The Washington Post on Friday that all traffic stops were reported through an electronic system, and that he didn’t think the department violated state law. Jones told the Post that starting in January, he created a requirement that officers document all traffic stops in writing, regardless of whether a citation was issued.

Traffic stops have been a topic of discussion among Montgomery County officials when it comes to racial disparities in policing. An Office of Legislative Oversight report last year found that 27% of Black adults in Montgomery County had a traffic stop in 2019, while that number was 15% for white adults, 17% for Latinx adults and 7% for Asian adults. That report did not distinguish county residents from non-county residents.

The July Office of Legislative Oversight report notes that the nonprofit Effective Law Enforcement for All is conducting an audit of the police department as part of County Executive Marc Elrich’s Reimagining Public Safety initiative. That audit, scheduled to be completed in the fall, will look at traffic enforcement’s impact on historically marginalized populations, trends in interactions between officers and civilians during traffic stops and an investigation into warnings, frisks, searches and seizures, ticketing, arrests and uses of force during stops.

Elrich told Bethesda Beat on Friday that he was “more than a little surprised” at the findings in the report.

“If the argument is that all stops are reported, that may be technically true. But if the stops don’t include race and gender data, they’re not fully reported.”

“The point of the [state] law was to know who got stopped. And there are some people, who, if the officer just gave their business card, they may capture it as a stop, but it doesn’t tell you the information that’s relevant,” he said.

Elrich said that the new policy Jones implemented in January about requiring written reports should solve the problem.

“If you have to do a [written] report of every stop, then you’re gonna get the racial and ethnic data on every stop. And the interesting thing to do would be to compare the months before to the months after the policy changed,” he said.

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