How should Montgomery Co. carry out police discipline? Debate continues

Supporters and opponents of a bill that would give the Montgomery County, Maryland, police chief more authority on matters of police discipline got their chance to offer opinions at a virtual public hearing before the council on Tuesday.

Expedited Bill 34-20 would put two additional members of the public on a hearing board that considers excessive use of force cases.

The bill would also authorize the police chief to issue the final order on employee discipline based on the recommendations of that board.

For members of the union that represents Montgomery County Police, an especially contentious element of the bill would exclude collective bargaining over the composition of the hearing board, the right of the chief to make a final decision regarding discipline and the right of the chief to issue an administrative order or directive.

Paulette Kee-Dudley, a county employee and vice president with the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization — often referred to as MCGEO — told the county council the union opposes the bill.

Kee-Dudley told the council, “In rejecting this change to collective bargaining law, we are not advocating that you should protect bad police officers.”

She told the council members that there’s “no denying that public safety infrastructure is currently broken,” but she said any corrective measure should not erode the collective bargaining rights of county workers, which she said the bill would do.

Jeffrey Rubin, with the organization Jews United For Justice, opposed the bill for a different reason.

“It is fundamentally flawed,” he said, because it leaves the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) intact. Rubin argued that LEOBOR essentially “enables the police to investigate themselves.”

Faith Blackburn with the Montgomery County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) testified in favor of the bill.

She said, “2020 will surely go down in history as one of the most unabashedly violent displays of police brutality against unarmed, nonresistant citizens.”

Blackburn then ticked off the names Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Jacob Blake, whose deaths galvanized efforts at police reform across the country. She said the bill would allow for department leadership to “dispense immediate disciplinary action” when needed.

Torrie Cooke, President of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 that represents 1,100 sworn police officers, told the council: “If the way we address police discipline in Montgomery County is a real problem, the police chief and the county executive have a legal tool defined by state law to correct the issues through mutual discussion and understanding: It is the collective bargaining process.”

Cooke said, “We hear and appreciate the public’s concerns, and we think there should be an open and constructive dialogue in Montgomery County about policing and public safety.”

Marcus Jones, the Montgomery County police chief, testified on behalf of County Executive Marc Elrich.

Jones told the council that Elrich believed that since the formation of a police advisory commission and a new “Reimagining Public Safety Task Force,” action on the bill should be delayed.

“County Executive Elrich believes it is important for the work of these groups with pending reports addressing these topics provide a voice in this discussion,” he said.

A Montgomery County work session on the bill is scheduled for Oct. 1, before the council’s Public Safety Committee.

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