Montgomery County passes police use-of-force bill

Police in Montgomery County, Maryland, will now have to adopt policies that bar the use of chokeholds and limit the use of “no-knock” warrants.

The move comes after the Montgomery County Council voted on the new police “use of force” bill initiated by Council member Will Jawando.

Aside from banning the use of chokeholds, the bill also prohibits police from striking a person who is already restrained and bars police from firing their weapons at a moving vehicle.

Police would still be able to use deadly force “when absolutely necessary, as a last resort, or when no other alternatives are available” under the legislation.

While the measure got a unanimous vote by the nine-member council, there was discussion and some debate on the precise language of the bill and what limitations should be placed on police.

Council President Sidney Katz asked about the provision surrounding use of force when, for example, someone is on the ground and struggling to avoid being handcuffed “if their hands are underneath their body,” and police would have no way of knowing what’s being concealed.

“They could have a weapon or whatever,” Katz said.

Jawando explained the bill was intended to provide use of force that allows police to take suspects into custody safely, and avoid cases where a suspect who is no longer a threat is struck by police.

“I think this strikes the right balance of preventing what we don’t want to happen but also leaving enough wiggle room in case an officer is in danger or the public is in danger from someone who is restrained,” Jawando said.

Talk of no-knock warrant restrictions prompted discussion that revealed some divisions among council members and police on tactics that police say are needed on the job.

Jawando said the proliferation of guns in the U.S. makes no-knock warrants inherently dangerous.

“It’s just not a safe practice absent some extreme circumstances — kidnapping, hostage situation” Jawando said.

That prompted comment from Montgomery County police Chief Marcus Jones, who said no-knock warrants are used as a way to minimize threats.

“It gives us an advantage in serving these warrants that allows us to be on top of the situation” in the safest way possible, Jones said.

In March, 21-year-old Duncan Socrates Lemp, of Potomac, was shot and killed by police as they executed a warrant at his home.

Police said the warrant was connected to the assertion that Lemp was in the possession of firearms — something he was legally barred from due to a juvenile criminal record.

The case was under review by Howard County, a routine practice when there’s a shooting involving a Montgomery County police officer.

The use-of-force policy is also intended to address issues of bias and requires that officers who witness excessive use of force take action.

The standards set by the legislation are not subject to collective bargaining, and officers who violate the new policies would be subject to discipline under the State Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.

Council members Jawando, Craig Rice, Nancy Navarro and Gabe Albornoz were the lead sponsors of the bill. Council members Katz, Evan Glass, Tom Hucker and Andrew Friedson were co-sponsors of the measure.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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