Is MoCo Ready to Reimagine the Police?

By Adam Pagnucco.

“Reimagine the police” is a phrase that has been thrown around quite a bit in the last year, although its meaning has often been nebulous. County Executive Marc Elrich’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force has issued a report attaching specifics to the term. At its establishment, the task force had no representatives from the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) or Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 (FOP). The report lists them as participants but the FOP alleged on Facebook, “No law enforcement officer or Union President had a vote or voice on this committee.” Regardless of who participated, it is the report’s recommendations rather than the task force’s composition which will attract attention.

The report contains many sensible proposals such as ensuring language access in MC311; new requirements for data collection, screening and background checks; incentives for officers to pursue higher education; expanding opportunities for youth (including reviving the Police Athletic League); expanding workforce development; increasing recruitment efforts at Historically Black Colleges and Universities; and enhancing community policing. However, these proposals are likely to be overshadowed by the more controversial recommendations in the report. They include:

Abolish school resource officers (SROS) and replace them with counselors

This is the least surprising recommendation from the task force. SROs were a hot issue before the task force was established. Their fate will be decided by competing county council bills and perhaps by state legislation in Annapolis.

Analyze whether police officers should always carry guns

Recommendation 37 states, “Conduct a risk assessment of police activities to determine when it is necessary for officers to carry a gun. Conduct a risk assessment audit of policing activities to determine the need for and effectiveness of having all officers carry firearms at all times.”

Are there any circumstances in which police officers should be required to perform their duties without carrying guns? The task force suggests that there may be and wants to find out.

Fully automate traffic enforcement

Recommendation 8 states, “Move to fully (or expanded) automated traffic enforcement through expansion of speed and intersection camera programs, and reduce FTE sworn officer positions across MCPD districts in proportion.” The task force justifies this recommendation by saying it “will remove the potential or appearance of racial bias resulting from traffic enforcement encounters. Use of automated traffic enforcement has the ability to reduce the person-to-person element in traffic enforcement that can result in racial bias in policing.”

Two questions. First, many traffic stops result in warnings. Can cameras issue warnings too or will every traffic offense now result in a ticket? Second, how can cameras pursue and arrest drunk drivers?

Reduce enforcement of drug violations

Recommendation 17 states, “Direct MCPD to treat all offenses in the ‘Crimes Against Society’ segment, except for weapons violations, as the lowest department priority.” Crimes Against Society are defined as drug violations, gambling, pornography and prostitution.

Recommendation 18 states, “Eliminate SID Drug Enforcement and SID Vice Intelligence, with a proportionate reduction in sworn officer FTEs.” The Special Investigations Division (SID) is responsible for investigating criminal gangs, some of which earn revenue from drug sales. MCPD’s 2019 crime and safety report says that MS-13 is “known to be responsible for human, narcotics, and firearms trafficking.” If the police stop investigating drug sales, will criminal gangs have access to more financial resources?

Analyze whether the police should enforce trespass law

Recommendation 34 states, “Consider whether the MCPD should continue to act as the agent for private properties in enforcing trespass law.”

The report goes on to say, “Evaluate policies, agreements, memoranda of understanding, and practices of MCPD acting as agents for private properties to enforce the property rights of the owners, make on-site trespass arrests, and issue stay away orders. Evaluate the duration of stay-away orders from public and private property to something more reasonable (i.e., three or six months as opposed to 1 year). This may also include renegotiating the collective bargaining agreement between the Fraternal Order of Police and the County that describes the circumstances under which a police officer may engage in second employment providing private security for private property owners.”

If private property owners are forced to rely on private security companies, does the task force believe that they will be less prone to engage in racial discrimination than trained police officers? Also, what does this concept mean for homeowners? If a break-in occurs at a residence, will officers be allowed to respond?

Cut the number of police officers by half in Silver Spring, Wheaton, Olney and East County

Recommendation 12 states, “Reduce sworn officer FTEs in police Districts 3 and 4 by 50% to reduce patrol officer contact with residents in these districts.”

Police Districts 3 and 4 include Silver Spring, Wheaton, Glenmont, Aspen Hill, Leisure World, Olney, Brookeville, Ashton, Sandy Spring, Spencerville and Burtonsville as shown by the map below.

The task force justifies this recommendation by noting the disproportionate use of force in Districts 3 and 4, especially against residents of color. The report is full of recommendations to reduce police racial bias, but the task force must think they are inadequate because its chosen remedy is to simply remove police officers from some communities.

Has anyone asked the residents of these districts whether they want their police service cut in half?

So what are the prospects of the above recommendations being implemented? That’s hard to say, but consider this comment in the report by County Executive Marc Elrich, who appoints the police chief and has ultimate control over the department.

“I am inspired by the effort of the Task Force and my administration is committed to continuing the transformative work of public safety in Montgomery County by advancing the goals of this report.”