Montgomery County’s Proposed “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” Approach to Policing

Earlier this month, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force issued its report.  The Task Force’s vision involves Montgomery County waving a proverbial white flag to reduce public safety dramatically.[i]

Media attention has focused on the recommendation for eliminating School Resource Officers.  This program has been at the frontline of MCPS’s efforts to keep kids out of gangs, especially since the average gang recruitment age is 13 or 14.[ii]  This proposal divided the Task Force.  Some members strongly supported retaining Resource Officers, and others had ideas for improvements. 

However, the Elrich “Reimagine the Police” report goes well beyond the School Resource Officer issue. 

Are you worried about the heroin epidemic? Not the Task Force so much, apparently.

Recommendation 17 would direct the County Police “to treat all offenses in the “Crimes Against Society” segment, except for weapons violations, as the lowest department priority.” These specifically include enforcing drug and narcotic violations.

This exception to standing down policing to pursue “weapon violations” needs to be weighed along with Recommendation 37 to “[c]onduct a risk assessment of police activities to determine when it is necessary for officers to carry a gun.”  Using unarmed police officers to face armed perpetrators is far less effective than with armed officers and massively more dangerous.

Human trafficking is a serious enough issue that the Montgomery County Commission for Women in 2014 was instrumental in forming what has evolved into the Montgomery County Human Trafficking Prevention Committee.  Safety & Security issues continue as Commission for Women priorities, including addressing domestic violence, sexual assault, as well as human trafficking.[iii]   De-emphasizing prostitution law enforcement as merely an unimportant “crime against society” would disarm one of the most useful police tools for combating human trafficking.

Recommendation 34 suggests that MCPD should reconsider enforcing trespass laws.  This proposal includes cutting the length of stay-away orders from up to a year to as short as three months.  Many of these orders result from domestic violence incidents and provide police with the tools to keep abusers away from their victims.  Reducing trespass enforcement and forcing victims to renew orders every 90 days puts them at greater risk.

Recommendation 8 states, “Move to fully (or expanded) automated traffic enforcement through expansion of speed and intersection camera programs, and reduce FTE sworn officer positions across MCPD districts in proportion.”

Reduced manned traffic enforcement undercuts the County’s “Vision Zero” effort to reduce pedestrian and traffic fatalities.  It has provided resources to reduce severe and fatal collisions on County roads.  Montgomery was one of the first county governments in the United States to initiate such an effort. [iv]

The rationale for reduced traffic enforcement through automation is to “remove the potential or appearance of racial bias resulting from traffic enforcement encounters. Use of automated traffic enforcement can reduce the person-to-person element in traffic enforcement that can result in racial bias in policing.” If implemented, though, the future cost will be measured with more lives lost.

Recommendation 12 would reduce officer staffing by 50% in specific police districts serving communities with proportionately higher minority populations.  The Task Force’s rationale for this is “to reduce patrol officer contact with residents in these districts.”  The unmistakable alternative way to see this is that the Task Force wants to cut police protection in half for minority communities.  A representative of the NAACP Montgomery County Branch dissented, noting “it would be more pragmatic to support a ratio of uniform police staffing in relation to population density in Districts 3 & 4, rather than reduce staffing to these communities.”

The report very deceptively lists various Montgomery County Departments, Agencies, and Unions Representatives as task force members. Yet, according to the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 (FOP), “No law enforcement officer or Union President had a vote or voice on this committee.” [v]

More disturbing than that is the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force’s failure to consider crime victims who would bear the brunt of their extremely ideological approach to public safety.