During the search for a new police chief, County Council President Nancy Navarro was also working on a bill to enforce community policing practices within the Montgomery County Police Department.
The legislation, introduced on Tuesday, sets guidelines and reporting requirements for the department to define community policing in law, Navarro said.
Sponsored by all nine council members, the bill is also a reaction to several high-profile cases of police misbehavior and a police chief search that solicited community feedback but resulted in no clear candidates.
The two finalists County Executive Marc Elrich selected withdrew from the process. Acting Chief Marcus Jones was tapped as the new nominee in September, but the council has yet to receive an official nomination or confirm him to the role.
“For me, this bill came from a lot of the conversations surrounding the police chief search,” Navarro said. “The community was talking about what they wanted from a new chief, and the time seemed right to implement a structural framework to hold the county accountable.”
The legislation would require the department to increase its community outreach initiatives and send officers to community events. The department must “ensure cultural competency,” according to the language of the bill, and “provide adequate training in de-escalation tactics” for officers.
Neither the police department nor the Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police, which consulted on the bill, responded to requests for comment on Wednesday. It’s unclear whether the community policing guidelines established in the first section of the bill would change existing policies within the department.
The department includes a community policing policy on its website and issues reports on outreach initiatives, though the most recently released document is from 2017. The department also maintains a spreadsheet of community events hosted or attended by officers, and includes a nine-page chapter in its internal policies on appropriate use of force.
The bill does not set new standards or specific training for de-escalation tactics or for cultural competency. Some of the most significant changes come in the second section of the bill, where the council sets new reporting requirements for the department, said Council Member Will Jawando, a co-sponsor.
“We’re trying to track indicators that will help us decide where we’re doing community policing well and areas where we can make improvements,” he added.
The legislation requires the department to provide annual statistics on the number of minority officers, female officers, and officers who live outside Montgomery County, in addition to data on use-of-force complaints by civilians and the percentage of officers assigned to community patrols.
That data will help the county measure a core aspect of community policing: how many officers actually feel at home in the areas they patrol.
“Community policing can mean going into schools and events, but it also includes things like making sure officers understand the communities where they work,” Jawando said. “We want officers who live in the county. We want them to go into neighborhoods and understand the history and culture and slang. It means they’re actually out there walking the streets and talking to people.”
The bill also calls for more information on the number of officers suspended from duty and use-of-force incidents in which civilians are taken to the hospital. Neither data point is included in the county’s database, and legislators aren’t sure whether the police department collects them internally, Jawando added.
Earlier this year, he commissioned a new report from the Office of Legislative Oversight that will detail what kind of data the police department regularly collects. The evaluation will especially focus on race and ethnicity and how those factors play into the department’s interactions with the public, according to the OLO’s 2020 work plan.
Jawando said he asked for the report after being told that the police department couldn’t provide information on the age, race, and location of suspects issued trespassing citations. He requested the data after the department released video footage of a white female officer using a racial slur while questioning a group of black men outside a White Oak McDonald’s.
“At this point, I don’t think we have that information,” Jawando said. “But we need it to know where we can make improvements.”
This is the third bill involving police in 2019. The council also enacted legislation that requires an independent investigation into officer-involved deaths and is considering a bill that would establish a public police advisory commission.