The Montgomery County Council Tuesday unanimously approved a measure that creates a nine-member civilian board to review complaints of police misconduct.
Final passage on the bill comes after months of debate about the structure and qualifications of the board.
“This has been an important process for so many different reasons, and every jurisdiction has handled this differently,” Council President Gabe Albornoz said shortly before the council vote.
“And I appreciate where we have landed. I appreciate and respect the feedback we’ve received from all sides on this critically important issue, and I think that we’ve landed in a place that’s consistent with the General Assembly’s intent, but also takes into account the situations we have here in our own community. ”
After George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in 2020, Maryland lawmakers passed a bill requiring each county to establish police accountability boards and additional oversight bodies — called administrative charging committees — to examine police misconduct. However, state lawmakers left details on the composition and makeup of the accountability boards up to each county.
Under the final version of the bill, Montgomery’s board will have nine members — up from the five initially proposed by the county executive. They’ll be nominated by the county executive and confirmed by the council, and will serve a three-year term with the possibility of another.
All members must be county residents, and at least one voting member must reside in a municipality that operates a police department within the jurisdiction of the board.
The board, which will receive complaints from the public and review disciplinary outcomes, is required to meet at least once per month.
As the measure was discussed and rewritten in committee work sessions, council members dropped specific professional qualifications for members. Under the final version of the bill approved by the council, members must “be able to demonstrate through professional or lived experience the ability to balance effective oversight, perform objective analysis of an investigation report, and practice procedural fairness.”
In addition, all members of the board will receive annual compensation of $10,000, with the exception of one member who will sit on the separate five-member administrative charging committee, which is tasked with reviewing investigations of police misconduct and deciding whether to administratively charge officers and what discipline to impose.
The chair of the administrative charging committee will receive an annual salary of $22,000 and the other four members will receive annual salaries of $16,000.
Speaking before the vote, Council Member Sidney Katz, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said the focus now shifts to vetting the applicants whom Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich will send on to the council.
Referring to the months of debate and discussion preceding the vote, Katz said, “Now the difficulty is going to be having the executive branch send over the names so that we can make certain that everyone who’s on these boards is going to be fair and impartial for all sides.”
The board will take complaints made on or after July 1, 2023, for most county police officers, because that’s when the current collective bargaining agreement expires. However, the board will hear complaints for some other law enforcement officers starting this July.
In a statement following the council’s vote, Katz said: “Complaints alleging police misconduct by a police officer employed by the county or by a municipality filed by a member of the public must be handled with the utmost care and attention. Thank you to my colleagues who worked diligently in committee and at full council, as well as to the many interested residents who took the time to share their thoughts with us.”
Late last year, when Elrich introduced the bill to create the police board, it was the subject of two public hearings, including one in January at which all 30 speakers spoke in opposition to the original bill. Complaints included that the qualifications in the original bill would have resulted in predominantly former police personnel filling the boards and a lack of community input before the original draft was introduced.
The council held eight work sessions to hammer out the details.
WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report from Rockville, Maryland.