Updated: County Police Union Official Says Recent Scrutiny Has Eroded Department Morale

Updated: County Police Union Official Says Recent Scrutiny Has Eroded Department Morale

Lee Holland says a dozen officers have told him in the last three weeks that they are considering retiring

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Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones at a press conference on July 9

Dan Schere

A leader in Montgomery County’s police union thinks recent scrutiny of the police department by the County Council and members of the public have contributed to a decline in overall morale within the department.

Lee Holland, vice president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, said in the past three weeks he’s heard from a dozen officers who have said they’re considering retirement.

“I think it’s related to the overall scrutiny and the handful that are speaking out,” he said in an interview Thursday.

Earlier this week, county police officer Kevin Moris was charged by the state’s attorney’s office with second degree assault and misconduct in office, after a video surfaced last week of Moris kneeing a restrained suspect in the back of the head while making an arrest in Aspen Hill.

Other incidents, such as an officer’s use of the n-word toward four black youths in May, and the fatal shooting of Robert White in June 2018 have also led to scrutiny of the police from the public. The council, in response, has put together legislation that would establish a 13-member advisory committee that would recommend best practices to the department.

Holland said he doesn’t understand how council members can praise the force for its overall good work ethic, but simultaneously want to make changes.

“When does the change stop? What’s the end game? Can you imagine having 13 people on there and them not being able to agree on policy changes?” he said.

Police recruiting has declined in Montgomery County during the last five years, with 132 new recruits entering in 2014, compared to a projected 59 this year. Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones has said that he thinks the decline in recruiting is related to increased scrutiny of the police, both at the local and national level.

The council held a public hearing on the bill Tuesday night, as well as a press conference with council members and Jones. In response to a question about recruitment, Jones reiterated his belief that the police are under a “tighter microscope.”

“We know everyone has video cameras on their phones that’s in this room today…and you have to ask yourself that for a young person who’s coming into this profession, if somebody’s watching you every single day, is that the job that you want to be a part of?” he said.

During a news conference on Friday, Jones said the Aspen Hill incident and other controversial incidents involving the police often elicit strong reactions on social media prior to all of the facts coming out.

“We are not perfect, but when you look at the overall work that we do, that’s not being captured. That’s not in the news. That’s not being written in certain media publications. We continue to strive to be a better police department.”

Jones said it can be frustrating to see the actions of a few officers taint the image of the police department.“At the end of the day when you go out there and you put your life on the line and you do everything in your power to do the right thing and you do it right and you do it well and you get put into the same stigma as everyone else, that’s disappointing and frustrating,” he said.

Jones supports the council’s initiative, which is being sponsored by council member Hans Riemer, and will sit on the commission as a non-voting member, along with a representative of the police union.

Council President Nancy Navarro said during the press conference that the commission was not intended to smear the police department’s image.

“The idea with this particular proposal is to not cast judgement on the men and women who put themselves out there. It is to be proactive with how we implement community policing and community engagement,” she said.

But on Thursday, the police union’s Facebook account shared the message, “Don’t be fooled! Hans Reimer is attacking officer’s disciplinary rights. It’s a shame police management is standing beside him,” misspelling the council member’s last name.

Holland said he understands the rationale behind the commission but is uncomfortable with the fact that the bill is worded so that any citizen may be a member, regardless of whether they have expert knowledge of law enforcement. He said the union would like to see the bill amended to specify the type of person who can be a member of the commission and focus strictly on community policing.

“I don’t think anybody has a problem with community policing, but I think officers have a problem with regular citizens weighing in,” he said.

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

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