Task force begins reviewing Montgomery Co. police dept. for underlying racial bias

An 80-member task force has begun its work reviewing police operations and developing recommendations to bring change to the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland.

It’s called the Re-imagining Public Safety Task Force. It’s made up of people from a variety of backgrounds, including community activism, human rights and criminal justice.

In the group’s first meeting, online, County Executive Marc Elrich ordered a top-to-bottom review of policing in the county.

“I know in this county the harassment of young Black kids over pot to try to get arrests comes from the top. It’s not officers acting on their own and doing stuff that we don’t want them to do, it is part of what people thought was good policing,” Elrich said.

“So if you’re going to change what we think about good policing, you have to look at the entire organization. You definitely deal with bad apples, but you got to deal with bad training and you got to deal with bad expectations.”

The task force is co-chaired by Bernice Mireku-North, a criminal defense attorney, and Marc Mauer, retired executive director of the Sentencing Project, a national criminal justice reform organization.

Elrich is seeking funding from the Montgomery County Council to employ an independent consulting group that would assist the task force with reviewing police operations, recruitment and training.

The county executive also wants an examination of institutional racism in public safety. When Elrich shared his plan to review the police department in June, he said he believes there is an underlying racial bias in the community.

“We’re going to deal head-on with the issues of racism. This is alive and well in America, we only need to look around to see that it’s alive and well,” Elrich said.

Montgomery County has about 1,300 sworn officers and 700 people in support positions. In 2019, the police department processed 835,108 calls for the county, which has a population over 1 million, according to the department’s website.

The task force will look at financing of police operations, and a county employee with expertise in the public safety budget is a member of the task force.

“I’m never comfortable with the word defunding, but I will say that moving funding out of the police department to fund services that really ought to be done by somebody other than the police is the absolutely right thing to do,” Elrich said.

Police departments across the country are reviewing their operations in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

Montgomery County’s task force has been given a deadline of Jan. 18, 2021, to make its recommendations.

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