Montgomery County approves plan to create police advisory panel: ‘We need to make changes’

Stopping police misconduct before it happens is the goal of a new committee unanimously approved by lawmakers in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Earlier this week, the Montgomery County Council gave the OK to what it called “landmark legislation,” introduced by Council member Hans Riemer, creating the Policing Advisory Commission.

In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile police misconduct cases across the country. In Montgomery County, the shooting death last summer of 41-year-old Robert White by a county police office drew outrage and calls to action from community members.

Riemer, who was council president at the time, said he felt an urgency to do something.

“I had the chance to meet with NAACP, and they raised concerns about responsiveness of the police department on community concerns,” he said.

They discussed the idea of some sort of oversight committee, but he said those didn’t have a very strong track record and typically lacked teeth to make real change. Instead, they came up with the idea of a police advisory commission.

“There is so much anger and hostility out there in this country because of incidents, and we have had our share. The status quo will not stand,” Riemer said. “We need to make changes as well, and I believe this commission will put our department where it seeks to be, which is part of the solution.”

The advisory commission will be tasked with looking at audits, reports of policing being done in different communities and other data. It will then recommend changes to police practices and offer suggestions for new policies and regulations.

“A commission that, instead of seeking to hold officers accountable for something done wrong, looks at how the whole structure of the organization can do things right,” Riemer said.

He added that he hopes the Policing Advisory Commission can make changes before another incident happens.

The bill, approved by the council Tuesday, establishes a 13-person commission, with nine public members serving three-year terms. The county executive will appoint four voting members of the commission, and the council will appoint nine.

Council member Will Jawando added an amendment to make sure the commission includes younger members. The amendment requires one of the members of the commission must be under 25 years old, and one of the members must be 25 to 35 years old.

“The work ahead of us is going to be great,” Jawando said. “Because, when we get some of this data, when we get the audits and we start digging into why things are happening differently, as far as arrest rates in different communities and stops, then we are going to be confronted with what do we do about it and how do we change practice and policy and, in some cases, law.”

Jawando said he has confidence in the idea of the advisory commission.

“This will be a great vehicle to help us do it in a way that’s together so we can get to that vision where everyone feels safe, everyone has trust and respect, and feels that their police department is there to protect and serve all members of the community,” Jawando said.

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