Community

Community Policing a Priority in MoCo Police Chief Search

Since the start of the search for Montgomery County’s next police chief, several candidates have come and gone of their own volition and without a transmittal. That document, to be sent by County Executive Marc Elrich, would formalize the process and better inform the legislature of his choices for Montgomery County’s top cop.

In the end, whoever assumes that role would sit at the helm of a police department that has been in the public eye for its officers’ use of excessive force and racial slurs against suspects of color, and the killing of an unarmed Black man. For some lawmakers, like Montgomery County Council member Sidney Katz, community-focused policing must sit at the top of new chief’s agenda.

“My constituents want a police department that’s community-oriented [and] deals with community policing that they’re comfortable with,” Katz, also a member of the Montgomery County Council’s public safety committee, told The Informer.

“[People want police] that can keep the public safe, and do it in a manner that makes the public feel like they’re being respected,” he added. “All of these traits are necessary. This is not just for the police department, but for every person in Montgomery County and well beyond.”

In July, Katz’s colleague, Montgomery County Council member Hans Riemer, proposed the launch of a policing advisory commission that would develop best practices for the Montgomery County Police Department. This came not long after the Montgomery County State’s Attorney charged an officer with second-degree assault in the arrest of a 19-year-old Black man.

About the same time, Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando extensively tweeted about his encounter with a Maryland State trooper during which the officer asked him whether he owned the Lexus he was driving, and if he had any warrants.

Earlier this year, Jawando introduced legislation mandating an independent investigation of police-involved shootings and the release of documents in cases where the officer didn’t receive charges. The Montgomery County Council would later pass that bill, titled the Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency (LETT) Act, unanimously.

Elrich reportedly tapped Darryl McSwain as his choice for police chief earlier this month, though he hasn’t confirmed that as fact. Before he finalizes his decision, Montgomery County’s nine council members will meet with candidates.

McSwain, a retired Montgomery County police officer, currently serves as head of the Maryland-National Capital Park Police. His consideration at this point raises the question of whether he would qualify for the job because of his enrollment in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, which allows a retiree to earn interest on their savings while earning additional income for up to three years.

These developments followed an announcement by one-time candidate former Portsmouth Police Chief Tonya Chapman that she would pull herself out of the running for Montgomery County Police Chief. There had been speculation about whether she had succumbed to pressure from conservative media forces and Montgomery County’s Fraternal Order of Police.

Montgomery County’s Fraternal Order of Police Didn’t return The Informer’s inquiry about the police chief search.

In regard to the selection process, some residents, like Delicia Hand, said she would like more transparency and an assurance that the county’s power brokers choose a chief that instills confidence in their multicultural constituency. Hand said that didn’t happen in the case of Chapman.

“We have to construct dialogue and a pathway towards improving [the] community and police relationship,” said Hand, a Silver Spring, Maryland resident and policy chair for the D.C. metropolitan area chapter of Mothers of Black Boys United for Social Change.

“We currently have no pathway towards doing so,” Hand said. “The one candidate who had community support and seemed likely to see the value in community policing and help to forge a path forward, seemed to succumb to political pressure and not make it through the vetting process. This doesn’t engender community confidence or trust.”

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