Some community groups say a new mandate that requires an independent investigation of police officer-involved shootings in Montgomery County doesn’t go far enough.
The County Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Council member Will Jawando that requires a law enforcement agency outside of Montgomery County investigate any officer-involved shooting. Investigators must be sworn police officers and have use-of-force experience.
“We must also recognize that our work to prevent young black and brown men from being put into handcuffs and jail cells has only just begun,” said Jawando, noting that African Americans are arrested at disproportionately higher rates than whites.
A number of police reform activists were present in the council chamber Tuesday and some called for more citizen input.
“We need to get beyond police policing police,” said Joanna Silver, who is a member of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition, a group focused on criminal justice reform.
Silver said Montgomery should model its police review process after “more progressive” jurisdictions such as Baltimore City, which have citizen review panels.
Jawando introduced the bill following the death of Robert White last summer. White was who was shot by a Montgomery County police officer who was cleared of wrongdoing by an internal police department review last month. A report said the use of lethal force was “lawful and justified.” A separate investigation by the Howard County prosecutor’s office came to the same conclusion last year. Howard and Montgomery’s prosecutors recently renewed an agreement to investigate each other’s police-involved shootings.
During a news conference following Tuesday’s meeting, Jawando said he is committed to finding a way to include citizen input.
“I think you can get more bang for your buck on focusing on the policy side. I agree. I think we should have more community involvement. In my bill it was hard to do that. You need to train these sworn officers to do these complex investigations, so I think there’s other ways we can bring more community involvement into the process.” he said.
Jawando, a former aide in President Barack Obama’s administration, noted that the former president’s task force dedicated to police reform released a set of recommendations that included independent investigations of police departments following officer-involved shootings.
The Montgomery-Howard agreement, Jawando said, only covers aspects related to whether the officer should be criminally charged.
“When someone responds to the scene, the agency involved in the killing of the resident shouldn’t be doing the investigation and interviewing witnesses and all those things,” he said.
Silver said a statewide agency would also be an acceptable organization to conduct the review. But she isn’t satisfied with the Montgomery-Howard reciprocity agreement.
“It’s like ‘You’ll scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ where there isn’t going to be the same type of robust oversight that might occur if there was a statewide neutral body investigating these killings,” she said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org