Activists scored a victory earlier this month when the Montgomery County Council discussed an amendment to a proposed community policing bill that would, among other things, remove language calling for an expansion of the county’s school resource officer program.

“We gathered a lot of feedback during those committee conversations,” said Councilmember Nancy Navarro (D-4th District), a co-lead sponsor of the bill, during a work session of the council’s Public Safety committee. “I have put forth some amendments that have been as a direct result of that feedback…I really do look forward to this being a positive thing.”

In addition to removing the language around school resource officers, the amendment would direct the Montgomery County Police Department to assign liaisons to populations “disproportionately impacted by inequities,” call on MCPD to partner with other departments and agencies for “mental health and positive youth development initiatives” and add to reporting requirements outlined in the original bill.

The bill, which was initially proposed by Navarro in October during her term as council president, has drawn the ire of local activist groups like the Silver Spring Justice Coalition, whose members submitted testimony opposing the bill at a Jan. 21 public hearing and observed Thursday’s work session holding signs that read “KIDS NEED COUNSELORS, NOT COPS” and “SROs FEED THE SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE.”

The school resource officer program was a primary target of the opposition, with testimony coming from a host of citizens and groups, including the Montgomery County chapters of the ACLU and the NAACP, but it was far from their only concern.

Some have argued that two bills passed by the council in late 2019—one that establishes a civilian police advisory commission, one that requires racial equity impact assessments for new bills—would be severely weakened or circumvented by the community policing bill.

Gaithersburg resident Steve Lapham, a member of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition, submitted a letter addressed to Navarro’s co-lead sponsor, Councilmember Craig Rice (D-2nd District) expressing concern that even in its amended form, the bill would “Abort the Racial Equity Review that is mandated for all new County policies (except this one, apparently)” and “Pre-empt the work of the nascent Police Advisory Commission (which is being formed).”

In a passionate statement during the meeting, Rice recounted a time that he was racially profiled by a Montgomery County police officer, and reminded the room that the goal of the bill was a police department that would work for all county residents.

“We…owe it to ourselves to roll up our sleeves and…have the difficult conversations about what it means to have a police department that’s responsive, a police department that’s supportive, that’s respectful,” Rice said. “And I think that we can get there for everyone.

“I’ve experienced racism throughout my life. And I know that that won’t stop tomorrow. … Nobody’s going to tell me what racial justice is. Nobody’s going to tell me what racism is. Nobody’s going to tell me what equity should be. I know it. I live it each and every day…that’s the reason why I feel as though this bill is the right direction for us to go in.”

Councilmember Rice speaking during the council work session. Photo by Sean McGoey

Sean McGoey