The nine candidates nominated by County Executive Marc Elrich to serve on the new Police Accountability Board told the County Council on Tuesday that impartial, thoughtful, and data-driven analysis would be critical to their work moving forward.
County Council Members plan to vote on whether to approve Elrich’s nominations next week as state law requires that the council choose the board members by July 1.
The Police Accountability Board, broadly speaking, will handle complaints about possible police misconduct. It also would advise the county executive and council on policing issues and review complaints of police misconduct filed by the public.
The County Council passed legislation earlier this year establishing the board, and a related administrative charging committee in response to calls for police reform and state legislation enabling the creation of those bodies. Police Accountability Board members will make $10,000 annually, and Administrative Charging Committee members will make $16,000 annually. The exception is the chair, which would likely serve both boards and make $22,000 per year.
The administrative charging committee is tasked with reviewing complaints, which could include examining body camera footage and evidence. The committee also will interview witnesses, which could include any officer involved, and would recommend any administrative charges for officers.
Earlier this month, Elrich announced the following nine applicants, all county residents:
- Bishop Paul Walker, chair of the board and a local pastor
- Alicia Hudson, an attorney and member of the county’s Policing Advisory Commission
- Kenneth Kellner, an attorney working with the U.S. Department of Justice
- George Lluberes, a political scientist who works in market research
- Rudy Logan, a nonprofit official and minister
- Katharine Manning, an attorney who has worked on several social issues
- Alvin “Greg” McCray, an information technology and sales professional
- Thomas Williams Jr., a county Board of Elections aide and former financial adviser
- Christopher Zatratz, a labor attorney
On Tuesday, the candidates were asked how they would build trust with both critics of the Montgomery County police department and police officers themselves, what interactions they’ve had with police, how they would work with the administrative charging committee, what they think of data that shows disparities with how certain populations are policed, among other questions.
Hudson said that one idea that will help policing overall is encouraging more people who identify as LBGTQIA to become police officers, and having that community become more involved in training in the department’s citizen academy. The academy was founded in 1994 and “serves to increase resident awareness of the function of the police department,” according to a county website.
Others said police officers have difficult jobs and that there must be other mental health resources and wraparound services available to lighten their load.
“I think we all realize that we ask the police to do an awful lot in addressing problems and issues that arise in our community,” Kellner said. “And it places them in situations that we wish we could address by other means.”
In a similar vein, Logan said police officers should try to offer more assistance to those they pull over instead of writing tickets or making arrests. For example, if a driver’s taillight is not working, then the officer who conducts a traffic stop should try to help the motorist find a mechanic or advise where to find the parts to replace the broken light, he said.
Some nominees also said that examining data and research needs to be a key part of discussions about police recruitment, retention and other issues. McCray said that based on his preliminary research, people who complain about police abuse during traffic stops tend to have interacted with officers who have 14 or more years or service or are over 45 years old. He added he would want to look into how older officers tend to generate the most complaints.
Williams said that unfounded cultural beliefs also needed to be addressed — such as that African-Americans are more likely to have higher pain tolerances so officers need to use more force when restraining them. Some might also believe that Black communities are more prone to violence, he said.
In order to fully appreciate what might be causing biases and disparities, Williams said it’s important to look at the root causes, not just at policing incidents as they occur.
He used this analogy: “If someone died at the hands of a 10,000-boulder avalanche, it probably wasn’t the 10,000th boulder that killed them, it probably was the first one.”
Walker, who would be the chair of the board if approved by the council, said improving education, communication and transparency are all key when trying to address those disparities.
In an interview, Walker said part of the reason he applied for the position is because of the county’s demographics, and a willingness to have difficult conversations about policing both from the community and police officers themselves.
“[It’s] having the opportunity to be a voice that will establish equity and equality on both sides,” Walker said. “It’s a very important time, especially for Montgomery County. I believe this is a diverse county, I believe it’s fair to all its people — and yet, I believe this county is comfortable with being uncomfortable with dealing with some of these issues with policing.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org