Montgomery Co. police audit suggests changes to officer pay and training

After the death of George Floyd, Montgomery County, Maryland, officials started a task force to reform the county’s policing. Now, a new audit of its police department has yielded suggested changes to the use of force by officers and their training in dealing with mental health crises.

County leadership revealed the findings of the audit Wednesday at the Montgomery County Public Safety Headquarters.

“Here in Montgomery County, the two biggest concerns are mental health crises and use of force particularly against black and brown people. So our most important recommendations are in those areas,” said David Douglass of Effective Law Enforcement for All, the nonprofit that conducted the audit.

“Twenty-five percent of police uses of force are with people in mental health crises and when you look at use of force against black and brown people there is often a mental health element.”

The audit suggests that every officer in the Montgomery County Police Department receive crisis intervention training, particularly focusing on mental health crises. It also suggests the formation of a specialized behavioral health unit.

Douglass told reporters the audit calls for revising the use of force policy to be “more comprehensive” and “provide more guidance.” Exact details were not shared. Douglass said the task force will continue to work with the department and the Fraternal Order of Police on an updated policy.

One area that is likely to see considerable change is investigations into the uses of force by officers.

“One of the things that we identified is that many complaints are not truly investigated, they’re reviewed. It tends to consist of a review of the statements and there is no true objective investigation,” said Douglass.

The new policy would call for the creation of a force investigation team to review serious cases. This would be in addition to possible randomized reviews of officers through their body-worn cameras; a new bill that will go before the council calls for increased random reviews of camera footage.

Another paramount change for the department would be a pay increase for first-year officers. Current pay for first-year officers in the county is amongst the lowest in the region.

“The last survey I saw during the discussion in our budget is that we were 10th out of 12 in the metro area. That is just shameful,” said Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker.

Other suggestions include revising internal investigations to make them more independent and focus on non-tactical police training.

Lee Holland, the vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 in Montgomery County, said while his organization did not agree with all reforms, they commended the task force on recognizing the need for better pay for young officers and more holistic training.

“It’s the 21st century, and we need to get back to taking a broader view of what the role of policing is,” County Executive Marc Elrich said.

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