I was forwarded an email received by a resident from County Executive Marc Elrich. The original discussion involved the removal of SROs from Montgomery County Schools but moved to defunding the police. I’ve included Elrich’s full response below but wanted to touch on a few points that seem very relevant given what has transpired in the past 48 hours regarding the Montgomery County Police Department–the Council passing a ban on most no-knock warrants and prohibiting deadly use of force.
First, we continually see elected officials within Montgomery County, the Montgomery County Police Union, FOP 35, and the Montgomery County Police Department deny that our police department is built on systemic racism and enforces laws disproportionately because of it. Additionally, we also see elected officials listening to residents that are disproportionately white and therefore don’t see a need to change the police department or the systems with which they enforce laws.
We know that the County Executive received the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police Union. He gladly accepted it even though he received some backlash because he also took the endorsement of the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Elected officials love endorsements. They mean a lot to them. How do you think they get endorsements? It’s certainly not because they don’t plan on doing something to further the endorsees agenda.
I say all this because one thing struck me as I read through the email that was written by the County Executive. It sounds familiar. I’ve heard a lot of these same points before from Fraternal Order of Police President Torrie Cooke. You can probably go back and watch some of the forums and town halls that both Mr. Cooke and Chief Jones were on. You’d find that they are saying the same things that the County Executive has repeatedly spoken about changing the police department in Montgomery County.
Montgomery County doesn’t need to spend more money on training police officers. We don’t need to spend more money on more officers that will only enforce laws disproportionately. We cannot continue to work within the system if we are not willing to change the system. The system is not only broken, but the foundation it stands on is in complete disrepair. You cannot continue to fix a system and patch holes if the foundation is rotting.
Thank you for writing regarding defunding the police and ending the status quo. I agree with you that the status quo is not acceptable – defunding is not so simple: I can’t simply abolish the police instantly, they fulfill necessary roles and getting rid of police is not what most people want – I hear from communities, all communities, issues of not seeing police enough. We must figure out how to change policing – so that police do what they should do and not the things they shouldn’t do. And we are working on that. We reached an agreement with the police management and union about “Duty to Intervene” policy, requiring officers to intervene when they witness excessive force by other officers. We have created a civilian Assistant Police Chief, who will oversee community policing efforts and be part of efforts to de-militarize police operations, and lead social justice efforts for the police department. Months ago I convened a group to work on decriminalizing homelessness, and we now have their report, which will help guide our actions. I’m also supportive of work in the legislature to decriminalize poverty.
More broadly, the police have wound up as being the only institution available to deal with a myriad of social issues because no other institutions exist to deal with it. For example, mental health: we have few hospital beds for people with mental health issues, so the County jail, and probably all jails, are the largest mental health facilities we have – about one third of inmates have mental health issues, and I have heard from judges who felt that many of the people sentenced to jail should be getting mental health treatment, but there are not the hospital beds in the state to send them to, so they go to jail.
We find ourselves with the police being expected to respond to calls for problems that ought to be handled by social service agencies, but those agencies have never been used that way, certainly not proactively or at scale. We are having discussions now with hospitals about how we create a crisis intervention system to divert mental and behavioral health crisis away from police. We already have a robust diversion program in place to keep people out of jail. But even these programs begin with the police. If we’re going to stand up alternative services, some money may come from police savings. Right now we don’t know how much reconfiguring police changes their budgets, but our work will help us determine that and we will engage the community to help guide our decisions.
However, this still does not get to the core: identifying areas that shouldn’t be handled by police is the easier part. For me, how we police and over-policing are much bigger issues. We are launching a comprehensive review of hiring, promotion, evaluations, structure, policing practices, and the disproportionality of application of our laws. At the core of how policing is done and how the culture is developed, is how the police are trained.
Actions that we identify as over-policing are not solely the actions of rogue officers. Pretextual stops are taught. Harassing drivers to agree to a search is taught. Hassling kids over marijuana has at times been encouraged – even though State’s Attorney John McCarthy has stated that he does not prosecute personal possession of small amounts of marijuana, even over 10 grams. We see officers doing things we consider wrong, but they are doing what they were trained to do – way too often. There still is little credit, if any, given for “good” community activities and too much emphasis on other activities and statistics. Officers use the tools they have the way they’re trained to use them, and they don’t get adequate training in real de-escalation – not to mention that this training doesn’t make you adequate as a social worker or therapist. Many people wonder why so many complaints don’t result in internal discipline: it starts with the defense that “I did what I did in accordance with our policies and procedures.”
The most important thing we can do, after recruiting, lies in the training. Are police officers trained to think that they are always at war against people bent on destroying society and that they’re the last line between civilization and chaos, or are they trained to help and keep people safe? We need to be prepared to reimagine public safety: reform police policies and procedures, and enhance funding for other community needs such as health and social services. We need to do what is needed whether or not we can shift enough money from the police department to accomplish what we need to do.This is a priority for my administrationMarc Elrich in an email to resident