Local leaders working to ‘fix policing in Maryland’

From Annapolis to Rockville, there are calls for moving further and faster on police reform in Maryland.

Members of House of Delegates joined with House Speaker Adrienne Jones in calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to “fix policing in Maryland” by issuing an executive order on the matter.

Among the coveted changes: a mandate that says deadly force can only be used in instances where there’s an “imminent threat of death” or serious bodily injury.

The letter, signed by 98 House Democrats and the House Speaker, also calls for a requirement that officers report any instances of unreasonable or unnecessary force by their colleagues.

Another change would call for a ban on chokeholds and firing on vehicles, unless the vehicle was “clearly” being used as a weapon.

Locally, in Rockville, the Montgomery County Council introduced legislation on police reforms that focuses on use of force, including the use of chokeholds.

Council member Will Jawando led the effort to introduce the bill, saying incidents involving use of force at local and national levels prompted him to act.

Following weeks of national protests since the death of George Floyd, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that he said would encourage better police practices.

“These policies aren’t just going to protect the black community or communities of color. It will protect all residents, which is what we want,” Jawando said. “We want de-escalation to be the rule, not the exception, and not depend on who you are.”

Council member Craig Rice, who like Jawando is African American, said the emphasis on policing has to focus on the phrase “protect and serve.” He also said he has been questioned about his support of the police.

Rice, who chairs the Education and Culture Committee, said he doesn’t simply give blanket support to police departments but that “I support an organization that is supposed to protect and serve us.”

He and Jawando didn’t always see eye to eye on issues of policing, Rice said, but the proposed legislation is needed.

Council member Nancy Navarro has said when the public sees some of the cases of police use of force on videos that have become viral, people are often moved to ask, “Was that necessary?”

Navarro, who joined Jawando, Rice, and Council member Gabe Albornoz in supporting police reforms, said, “I thank my colleagues of color,” referring to Rice, Jawando and Albornoz.

Then, she added, “I want to thank the rest of my colleagues!” referring to council members Evan Glass, Andrew Friedson, Sidney Katz and Tom Hucker, who are white.

She called them “allies” in working to improve public safety in the county. Albornoz, like Navarro, is Latino.

Albornoz said the calls for police reform, particularly around use of force, feel different than past efforts.

“Because many people have awakened, finally, to the injustices that they have not personally felt, but are now seeing so acutely and so shockingly in videos,” he said.

Hucker welcomed the legislation but said he had reservations about the wording.

“I will say I’m a little nervous just about the exception that allows the use of chokeholds if the officer believes it is necessary because my colleagues on the public safety committee know that it’s hard to disprove what a police officer believes in the middle of a crisis,” Hucker said.

While the move to introduce the bill is getting support among all the members of the council, Glass said, “There will be lots of hard conversations because that is the only way we’ll heal and make real progress.”

Council member Hans Riemer noted the sometimes bitter criticism leveled at Jawando over his criticism of police force in the county.

“I don’t think it’s been the easiest time for you, over the past year and a half,” Riemer told Jawando.

Friedson, meanwhile, told his colleagues, “This has been a really good example of challenging anger into action.”

At the end of the meeting, Katz, the council’s president, told his colleagues while some of the work has been difficult, “together is how we solve our issues.”

Editor’s note: The committee that Council member Craig Rice chairs has been corrected. This story has been updated to reflect that correction. 

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