Montgomery County’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force released 87 recommendations for public safety and the police department in a comprehensive report Thursday.
The task force was created by County Executive Marc Elrich in August 2020. According to the report, members were asked to address policing practices that lead to racial injustices and give recommendations for how to improve public safety in the Montgomery County community, with an emphasis on racial equity. The task force is made up of 45 community members, working with 35 county staff members and other organization representatives. During a media briefing Thursday, Co-chair Bernice Mireku-North said staff only provided information and the 87 recommendations are the voices of the community members.
Co-chair Marc Mauer said task members were divided into five focus groups to examine the following: 911 and 311 call responses, Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) budget, MCPD programs, alternative programs to police and jail interactions and best practices for crisis response and social services.
An overview of key recommendations:
– Provide Comprehensive Ecosystem
– Promote Decriminalization of Minor Offenses
– Specialize Training and Calls for Service
– Eliminate School Resource Officers
– Assess Racial Equity Data
– Change Law Enforcement Culture
– Conduct Community Surveying & Evaluation
– Support Alternative Court Processes & Sentencing
– Change Traffic Enforcement
Mireku-North said changing law enforcement culture was a very heavy topic discussed within at least one focus group, and said the recommendations will not work unless the root cause of policing issues is addressed – the culture. Recommendations include annual public hearings and inclusion of the Office of the Inspector General in reporting. These measures would help hold police accountable and “allow them to no longer have the warrior mindset, but go toward a guardian mindset in policing in Montgomery County,” Mireku-North said.
Elrich said he hopes the work of the task force will inform the work of the Policing Advisory Commission, which was created by the county council in 2019 to advise and make legislation/program recommendations to councilmembers related to policing. Elrich said he believes the task force’s report offers the county a solid framework to develop immediate and mid-term changes. The county executive said he hopes the work is not long-term.
“I think social justice has been a long time coming and telling people that it could be a long time before we deal with this would just be, kind of, insult to injury. So, we will deal with these as expeditiously as we can,” Elrich said.
“We really want an evolution in the county, and an evolution means that I expect that our police department becomes part of this. I understand what it means to be in an institution and be in an institution for a long time and have the expectations, but sometimes institutions need to change. It’s not always easy but it’s often necessary.”
Mauer said the task force came to the conclusion that funding should cease for the School Resource Officer (SRO) program in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) based on findings that school officers worsen the school-to-prison pipeline and racial disparities within that, and have little impact on public safety. Under the SRO program, an officer is assigned to a school primarily to “maintain a safe learning environment for all and act as a bridge to establish positive relations with students within the school system,” according to a fact sheet from MCPD. Mauer said the task force believes schools would be better served if resources currently going to the program instead went to counselors, social workers and “problem solvers.”
Thursday evening, the county council held a public hearing for a bill to eliminate the SRO program.
The report also calls for creating clear criteria and accountability measures for MCPS about taking disciplinary action, like initiating an SRO arrest, when other measures like restorative justice are available. On Thursday, the Council Education and Culture Committee recommended a $750,000 appropriation for MCPS to go toward restorative justice training for administrators and staff at the county’s 40 middle schools.