A proposal by the County Council to establish a police advisory commission drew both praise and criticism Tuesday night, during a public hearing that attracted a capacity crowd at the council’s Rockville chamber.
More than 30 residents spoke on the council’s measure, which would establish a 13-member task force to study best practices within the department. Four of the members would be appointed by the county executive and nine by the council. Additionally, the police chief and a member of the police union would serve on the committee in non-voting roles.
The hearing was attended by members of several social justice groups focused on police reform, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Takoma Park Mobilization. Carlean Ponder, a member of the ACLU’s Montgomery County chapter and a leader in the activist group Silver Spring Justice Coalition, said she supported the council’s idea, but does not want anyone with ties to the police union to sit on the commission.
“The police union has adequate influence at the county and state level,” she said.
A number of other residents also supported the idea but felt it could be improved. Jeron Ruffin, a 23-year-old Aspen Hill resident who said he had a friend that was tazed by an officer despite not committing a crime, asked that the commission include at least one person under 30.
Ruffin, who is black, said that because of his race he does not feel comfortable with law enforcement.
“No matter how hard I work to do well in the community, I still have to worry about the police,” he said.
The hearing occurred just hours after 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 showing Moris kneeing a restrained suspect in the back of the head.
Ponder of the ACLU, who was one of more than 20 people who demonstrated outside of the council building prior to the hearing, said in an interview that she was pleased that Moris was charged in the Aspen Hill incident, but that there are broader issues within the police department that remain unresolved.
“Several of the officers were just standing around and were very comfortable with officer Moris’s brutality toward this man,” she said. “Nobody intervened. So we have concerns about the culture within the police department. We would like to see the state’s attorney follow up with charges against those officers who didn’t intervene.”
Police union President Torrie Cook was among the commission opponents who spoke at the hearing. Cook said the idea of an advisory commission is “well intentioned” but doesn’t solve the real issues within the department. Officers, he said, are often pressured by their managers to issue traffic citations in order to quantify productivity.
“FOP (Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35) does not care to see taxpayer money thrown away,” he said of the commission.
Poolesville resident Will Milam said civilians shouldn’t be advising the police on matters they don’t handle firsthand.
It’s your job [as a council] to guide the police department, not the job of… non-expert random citizens that I did not elect,” he said.
“I have never had background in the medical profession. It would be inappropriate and perhaps dangerous for me to be appointed to a panel that makes decisions on policy recommendations for doctors and surgeons,” Milam said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org