The Silver Spring Justice Coalition (of which Defending Rights & Dissent is a founding member) opposes the Montgomery County Council’s recently introduced Community Policing Bill (Bill 33-19), and specifically opposes parts calling for the department to “regularly initiate and engage in positive nonenforcement activities with their communities” and to “expand the School Resource Officer Program, in recognition of its value to the community” (clauses 35-6 (b)(1) and (b)(6)).
The Silver Spring Justice Coalition (SSJC) aims to reduce police presence in schools and neighborhoods, to reduce risk of abuse by police officers, and to address safety through socio-economic initiatives. We urge the Council to table Bill 33-19 until they have received research and recommendations from the Policing Advisory Commission. We look forward to working with the bill’s sponsors on the Council, with our County Executive, and with the Policing Advisory Commission to advance effective policies soon. SSJC members from various community organizations plan to testify at the bill’s initial hearing at 7:30pm on Tuesday, January 21st at the County Council and will be on hand to speak to the media.
Disciplinary issues traditionally addressed by school staff are increasingly pulling children into the criminal system. In Maryland, Black students represent 86.4% of referrals to law enforcement but only 36.3% of enrollment; statistics are unavailable for Latinx students. In May 2019, a 10-year-old Black MCPS student with disabilities was questioned by police without a parent present even though he had broken no rules. There have been chilling cases of abuse by SROs in the news. With the highest incarceration rate of Black men aged 18-24 in the nation, Maryland is ground zero for mass incarceration; recent MCPD incidents show racial bias and excessive use of force are valid local concerns.
Evidence indicates that community policing efforts, such as officer diversity and trust-building initiatives, have not made communities safer. Community policing is rooted in the erroneous theory that institutional racism can be fixed through community partnerships. But police violence, disproportionately against Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people, has persisted. Instead, evidence indicates that jobs, housing, and education initiatives are more effective and that reducing unnecessary interactions with police is essential to reducing police abuse. A study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour found that decreasing proactive policing decreased major crime such as burglary, assault, and grand larceny. Laws that increase contact with police, even under the umbrella of “non-enforcement activities,” can create the pretext for increased searches, arrests, and abuse of those already targeted for over-policing.
The national Dignity in Schools initiative recommends school staff or community intervention workers monitor hallways and gathering places to preemptively address conflicts as a more effective means of supporting safety. Dignity in Schools’ recommendations point out that “counselors, wrap-around services and strong relationships with caring adults give struggling students support, and keep students who may need interventions from falling through the cracks…social and emotional learning and restorative justice teach young people how to manage their emotions and respond to conflicts in a healthy way.” As more dollars go toward policing, these supports become harder to afford.
MCPS has a large shortage of school nurses – just 98 to oversee the county’s 206 schools, a 1:1,660 nurse-student ratio. The county recently appropriated funds for six new nurses; this is still far below accepted standards. (Prince George’s County has a 1:693 ratio.) MCPS also has a critical deficit of counselors amidst a national epidemic of youth depression, anxiety, and suicide which has touched our local schools. Even school crossing guards are understaffed, and there have been two traffic-related student deaths this year in spite of the Vision Zero initiative.
The bill upstages the new Policing Advisory Commission, set to form in the coming weeks, which will conduct its work in collaboration with residents most affected by policing —“with communities of color at the forefront, to ensure that [any new] policy reflects the needs and priorities of those most impacted by disparities and inequalities” (Racial Equality and Social Justice Community Engagement Toolkit).
SSJC supports overall transparency. However some data requested in the bill is already available, and the bill ignores data that is needed that we have advocated for in the past, especially related to criminalizing poverty and homelessness.
The Silver Spring Justice Coalition began as a community response to the unjust killing of Robert White by a Montgomery County police officer on June 11, 2018. The coalition aims to create a paradigm shift in police-community engagement. Race, class, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, and mental health status must never again put people in Montgomery County at risk of state-sponsored discrimination and violence. The coalition draws from throughout Montgomery County, including neighbors of Robert White, community members, faith groups, and civil and human rights organizations.