Members of the Montgomery County Policing Advisory Commission had hoped to hear personal experiences recounting police interactions during arrests for drug possession, instead the Maryland panel lamented that the online hearing Monday did not get testimony from these individuals.
“One of my greatest concerns is that we did not appear to reach the population that is considered to have the most arrests, which is the Black population … I’m concerned that we did not get part of the grassroots that we wanted to get to,” said Vernon Ricks, chair of the Chief of Police African American Community Liaison Committee and a member of the advisory commission.
Despite the low participation, law enforcement gave their thoughts on the topic. A retired Montgomery Council police officer and a current officer gave the commission contrasting views of marijuana arrests.
“I’m strongly in support of declining to arrest or prosecute for simple drug possession in Montgomery County … Simple possession of drugs, specifically marijuana, remains one of the single most abused and racially-charged criminal offenses that effects, especially, Black men and youth in this country,” said Sonia Pruitt, a retired Montgomery County police captain.
“There’s no evidence that petty arrests for possession have yielded low crime rates or have been very impactful in serious or violent crime,” Pruitt said.
But a commission member and current police officer wondered what police should do about the numerous complaints received each day about people smoking pot.
“People are calling 911 or 279-8000 to say, ‘Somebody outside my apartment complex is smoking weed,’ ‘My neighbor is smoking weed, and I have kids in the apartment.’ So, I’m trying to figure out how to reconcile the two of those, and they’re community members, as well. That’s a daily call that we get, multiple calls,” said Montgomery County police Sgt. Cate Brewer.
Some of the stories the panel wanted to hear included what happened when people were stopped and how they felt; if they tried to get their arrest of conviction expunged if there was an arrest; what were the long-term consequences of the experience (school suspension, loss of job or housing, etc.); or if the experience with Montgomery County police affected treatment for substance issues.
The commission plans to submit a report advising the county council on policing matters. The Policing Advisory Commission was formed in 2019, with the goal of stopping police misconduct before it happens.