racial justice and police reform

Dear resident,

Tensions in our country are extreme. Our racist president Donald Trump has failed to manage the COVID crisis and has steered us into an economic collapse with devastating consequences that are exacerbating racial inequalities.

With these flames burning, incidents such as the murder of George Floyd by police officers, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery by a retired officer and the ominous threats to call police against Chris Cooper by the woman in Central Park have brought us to a moment of reckoning about racial justice.

In order to create real change, “aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices,” to quote Barack Obama.

As part of a broad agenda on racial justice that includes health, housing, education and more, this is a moment to take stock of where we are on police reform, which in Maryland requires change at the County and State level.

Montgomery County strives to hire a professional police force composed of officers who are in the force because they love our community and will carry out their difficult job with great care.

I am grateful our force is led by a deeply professional, experienced Police Chief in Marcus Jones, who has the trust of his officers, but understands that there is much work to do to earn the trust of the entire Montgomery County community.

Police officers work according to our laws and the policies of the department. They are trained to follow procedure, which is a matter of life and death for them and for those they interact with.

Those procedures — such as how officers interact with individuals in a mental health crisis, or how to use force — can always be improved.

I believe the community deserves a stronger voice in how these procedures and policies are crafted. That is why I proposed the Policing Policy Advisory Commission, a landmark reform bill that the Council passed unanimously in 2019.

We are now seeking applicants with a June 19 deadline. I encourage you to share with your networks.

I also acknowledge that while we aspire to recruit people into the force who are anti-racist and dedicated to carrying out their trust with fidelity, we don’t always succeed.

In those rare instances, we need to be able to terminate an officer’s position on our force because that person is in the wrong line of work.

When it comes to officer discipline, Montgomery County’s police chief has one of the weakest authorities in the state of Maryland. This is because of state law as well as the County’s collective bargaining agreement.

I have joined my Council colleagues in supporting state reform bills in recent years, but unfortunately they have not passed.

Still, I am optimistic that we could see change this coming year. House Speaker Adrienne Jones has organized a legislative task force to craft new proposals. I hope among them will be measures to help the County reform our own disciplinary process to strengthen our department’s culture of accountability, as well as changes to the Maryland Public Information Act that allow us to provide greater transparency to our community.

The police union may fight us on that, as they fought against my proposal to create a Policy Advisory Commission. But we need to press ahead.

We will get through this — but we need to make real change to come out stronger than before.

Hans Riemer

P.S. Today is primary day. If you return your ballot by U.S. Postal Service, it must be postmarked by end of today, June 2, 2020. If your return your ballot to one of the Board of Elections drop boxes, it must be deposited before the polls close at 8:00 p.m. today, June 2, 2020. If you have any questions, please visit the Board of Elections FAQ.