Council Looks To Form Police Civilian Review Board
Goal is to increase transparency, says council president
Legislation that would establish the county’s first civilian police review commission is expected to be introduced in the Montgomery County Council this summer.
Council President Nancy Navarro said Wednesday that the advisory group’s goal would be to build trust between the police and the public, particularly in the wake of video that surfaced on social media showing a white female police officer using a racial slur in front of two black men who were being questioned about loitering at a White Oak fast-food restaurant.
Navarro said that in addition to requesting all of the police body camera footage from the May 9 encounter, the council has also asked the police for data on trespassing incidents and arrests to determine whether there has been a track record of racial profiling.
“For a long time, we in Montgomery County did not feel that these issues were as pervasive as in other jurisdictions. This is why it’s so important to look at the data,” she said. “As we hear more and more anecdotal concerns after this particular incident was caught on video, it’s very important to look at this data.”
Navarro said the advisory group is part of a broader racial equity initiative the council hopes to use in crafting future policy. She said in the county’s forums on racial equity that it has held for the last several months, the issue of police enforcement was one of the most common topics.
Council member Hans Riemer said in an interview that he drafted legislation last year as council president to set up a similar commission, following the death of Robert White last summer, who was shot by an officer. Riemer said this commission would have focused on disciplinary procedures, but momentum for the proposal stalled when he discovered that Maryland’s Public Information Act prohibits the sharing of personnel records.
“Those laws would need to be changed in order to create a different model for independent participation in disciplinary procedure,” he said.
Riemer said at that point, after meeting with several activists, he determined that the better course of action would be to create a commission aimed at tackling “how to ensure things go right” in the police department instead of what it was “doing wrong.”
The commission, he said, will more broadly make recommendations on how to better employ community policing tactics using a “data-driven” process. Riemer said ideally, commission members will be a mix of community members, civic leaders and policy experts.
“You can’t just be anybody who walks in off the street. People who serve on this commission need to embrace the role and understand officers and the challenges of the job,” he said.
Riemer added that the county’s police union and leaders from the department would be present at the commission’s meetings.
Montgomery’s police department has been under a microscope since the White shooting. Council member Will Jawando successfully sponsored legislation that requires the county to partner with an outside enforcement agency to conduct an independent investigation for all officer-involved shootings.
Additionally, County Executive Marc Elrich has asked that a similar statewide bill be passed.
A reporter asked during Navarro’s Wednesday news conference whether the council trusted the police department, the council president said the advisory commission is simply a way for the county to be “proactive” about averting similar incidents to those that have occurred recently.
“I do trust our police department. I think it’s incumbent on us as leaders to make sure that transparency is No. 1 in order to build trust in the community,” she said.
Elrich is searching for a permanent police chief following the retirement of J. Thomas Manger in April. Navarro said there have been mixed reactions from within the department when it comes to the person’s background.
“I’ve heard from both sides. I’ve heard from some police officers that would like to see someone from the outside who understands community policing well,” she said.
Capt. Tom Jordan, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Police Department, declined to comment on the advisory committee idea, noting that he hadn’t seen the bill.
This story has been updated to reflect the fact that council member Hans Riemer drafted a bill last year calling for a civilian review commission, but it was not formally introduced as legislation
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org