2021 | Opinion

Opinion: Candidate’s ‘law and order’ take on crime lacks context, ignores root causes

Invest in a community, not an outdated allegiance to policing

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David Blair, a candidate for Montgomery County executive, joins a long tradition of election-season “law and order” fear-mongering in his opinion piece of Nov. 13 (“Rising violence, shrinking police force, declining morale are unsustainable trends”).

He cherry-picks local data, omits national context, and ignores the root causes of conflict and violence.

Each homicide is one too many. But Blair references an “alarming rise in homicides” and links it to reduced police presence. This ignores the facts: This is a national trend, and police have not been defunded. Our county’s homicide rate remains at half the national average.

He also ignores that out of at least 30 people killed in Montgomery County this year, five were killed by police. Four of those were young Black men. Two were in mental distress. 

Even as he links a rise in crime to a drop in patrols, he acknowledges the police budget is growing. In 2021, we allocated $281.45 million to policing; patrol services funding has increased over the past three years.

In the meantime, hundreds are homeless, tens of thousands of children are food insecure, and COVID-19 has devastated our community. Blair’s old-school “tough-on-crime” solutions lack the imagination needed to keep our community truly secure. 

The Montgomery County Police Department has about 1,300 sworn officers, but few unarmed public personnel proactively patrol to help people with problems that don’t require force to resolve. When our police used force in 2020, 95% of the time it was against people struggling with substance abuse or mental illness.

And yet, we deploy only three mobile crisis outreach teams — not nearly enough to meet the need.

When I think about those three units versus those 1,300 officers (not counting our additional city, state, and park police), I imagine a different way — a county where we stop pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into police with guns and instead pour them into our communities, especially those hit hardest by poverty, health challenges, violence, and inequitable systems. 

Some of our police leaders recognize complexity in the causes of violence. Capt. Ruben Rosario, addressing 2021’s sharp rise in carjackings, states: “It has been a difficult and stressful year in a lot of areas. … Everything from mental health to substance abuse have probably been some of the reasons that things have gotten a little more unbalanced if you will. … It’s a tough one. I think it’s a collection of things.”

The police union, on the other hand, predictably pins the rise of violence on personnel issues like low compensation and/or morale. And they blame supposed “anti-police sentiment,” which is how they misread what is simply a growing local and national movement for common-sense transparency, accountability, and shifts in responsibility away from police.

This movement is getting stronger, but Blair seems unaware. It doesn’t bode well for any future ability to negotiate with the police union that Blair so readily adopts their oversimplified claims. 

I grew up in Silver Spring and attended MCPS, as have my kids. Blair’s exaggerated portrayal of Silver Spring feels unrecognizable.

Being a middle-class white person, I come to these issues with some privilege. Some friends and neighbors have faced worse than me here. But I am not naive to violence; in my life, I (like many people) have been sexually assaulted, and my kids have felt threatened at school more than once.

Yet, I believe what would make my family and our community better off are leaders who act on the belief that investing in all of us is the way to create a secure future for all, and that blindly pouring our community’s wealth into policing is a relic of America’s past. 

Katie Stauss of Silver Spring is a member of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition Steering Committee.

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