Building Accountability: Unpacking Montgomery County's Policing Advisory Commission Bill
Earlier this week, Montgomery County Council introduced Bill 32-23, Police-Policing Advisory Commission. Bill 32-23 aims to amend the provisions governing the Policing Advisory Commission (PAC) established under Bill No. 14-191. The PAC comprises 13 voting members appointed by the Council and two non-voting members nominated by the County Executive. Following a State mandate for police accountability boards, the County enacted Bill No. 49-21 to establish the Police Accountability Board and the Administrative Charging Committee. Due to these changes, the sponsor of Bill 32-23 seeks to clarify the role of the PAC, and this new bill replaces a previous one (Expedited Bill 27-23) that aimed to repeal the PAC.
What It Would Do
The proposed Bill 32-32 includes several changes to the Policing Advisory Commission (PAC). It would rename the PAC and introduce term limits of two consecutive three-year terms with staggered initial terms for the commissioners. The bill seeks to clarify that the Commission's role is to advise the County Council on specific policing matters and that it is not an oversight body for the Police Department. Additionally, the Commission would no longer address policing matters related to police misconduct and discipline, aligning with a recommended amendment from the Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) for Bill 27-23. Further changes involve altering the number and eligibility of commissioners and adjusting their voting eligibility.
Why Is It Important?
Establishing Policing Commissions in Montgomery County has had an upward battle to gain traction. When Bill No. 14-191, which established the Policing Advisory Commission (PAC), was initially discussed, opinions were mixed. The bill's purpose was to create a Commission to review current policing practices, research best practices, and provide recommendations to the Council. The proposed Commission received support from various groups, including the NAACP, CASA, Jews United for Justice, and ACLU of Maryland, who believed it would enhance community trust in the Police Department and offer civilian involvement in policing policy-making. However, there were also concerns and opposition from some council members and the police department, questioning why such oversight was not extended to other county agencies and departments and raising doubts about its effectiveness and necessity, given the professionalism of the police force.
Similar concerns arose during the public hearing for Bill No. 49-21, which established
the Police Accountability Board and the Administrative Charging Committee.
Among the speakers, Mayor Jud Ashman requested amendments to require at least
one PAB member to reside in one of the municipalities in the County with a
police department. Local non-profit, Takoma Park Mobilization, sought
amendments to the qualifications for PAB and ACC (Administrative Charging
Committee) members. Conversely, representatives from IMPACT Silver Spring, Jews
United for Justice and Muslim Voices Coalition opposed the bill, expressing
concerns that it would mandate all civilian members of the PAB and ACC to have
policing experience and result in a conflict of interest for the County
An attorney representing both the County Police Department and the PAB and ACC.
Several other speakers also raised objections to the qualifications for PAB and
ACC members proposing amendments to ensure independent staff and counsel for
the PAB and ACC, expand the scope of complaints handled through the ACC,
provide compensation for PAB members, increase their number, and enforce
geographical representation. Additionally, complaints were voiced about the
lack of community input, provisions allowing member removal for violating the
law, the absence of a defined budget for PAB and ACC staff, and concerns that the
ACC would review police department investigations instead of conducting
independent ones, with the involvement of retired judges in the trial board.
According to Power DMS, a public safety workforce platform, a culture of accountability in a law enforcement agency is essential. A culture of accountability in law enforcement also builds trust between law enforcement agencies and the community. When the police act unethically, they break public trust and lose credibility. Consequently, policing becomes increasingly difficult as the general public is more unlikely to cooperate with police if they don't trust them. When the public sees that law enforcement agencies have systems to enforce accountability, they are more likely to see them as legitimate. In 2021, the Maryland State Assembly amended the Maryland Public Safety article to require that each County have a police accountability board. This article mandated the Police Accountability Boards hold quarterly meetings with the heads of law enforcement agencies and work with their agencies to improve matters in policing. Additionally, the article required that the PACs receive complaints of police misconduct filed by members of the public and review outcomes of disciplinary matters considered by charging committees.
Who Would Be Impacted?
Bill 32-23 has wide-ranging implications for Montgomery County residents and staff, including law enforcement agencies. It focuses on holding the police accountable for unethical behavior and fosters collaboration between community members and leaders in addressing policing issues. The commissions established by the bill will play a crucial role in advising the Council on policing matters, sharing insights into best practices, and actively engaging with the community to gather valuable input on policing concerns.
Bill Sponsors/Next Steps
The lead sponsor of Bill 32-23 is Council member Luedtke; no other Council members sponsor this bill. A public hearing is scheduled for September 12 at 1:30 p.m.