Activists weigh in on Takoma Park police chief selection process — join us online and next Thursday!

Elizabeth Wallace testifies about Takoma Park police chief selection process

MCCRC, ACLU-Montgomery County, and other activists joined the discussion of the Takoma Park Police Chief selection process during a Takoma Park City Council meeting (video forthcoming) held Wednesday evening in the Recreation Center on New Hampshire Avenue.

Why is this important? As Thomas Nephew told Mitti Hicks of MyMCMedia,

“The people that lead the police department are the ones who have the biggest effect on the policies and culture of that police department. The new leader will determine the attitudes towards the use of force, programs like countering violent extremism […] and so I think it’s important to be a part of the process from the very beginning.”

The process began when former police chief Alan Goldman resigned in March.  (In the interim, the role is being filled by a rotating group of TPPD captains.)  After an initial work session on April 19th (video), the pace has stepped up with discussions on Monday, June 19th (video), Wednesday’s meeting, and a meeting next week (Thursday, June 29th, 7pm) in the Azalea Room of the Takoma Park Community Center that will be entirely dedicated to the topic.

Councilmember Peter Kovar has discussed some of the basics about the selection process and some of the ideas the council is considering on his blog:

Under Takoma Park’s City Charter, the Council doesn’t have direct involvement in the selection of the Police Chief. That’s a decision, like all other City personnel matters, that lies with the City Manager. The Council does have a role in establishing overall policies for the Department, including designating areas like community policing that we may want a new Chief to place more emphasis on. Whether the Council should have a more direct role in reviewing applicants, approving the City Manager’s choice, etc., is something we’re debating now. Beyond that, it may make sense to have a Police Commission, composed of residents and community members, that would help set and monitor Police Department policies.

In her remarks to the council on Wednesday evening, Elizabeth Wallace recalled comments by the reform-oriented Tucson PD chief Chris Magnus to the council on Monday.  Chief Magnus opened those remarks by saying that the job can be a great opportunity to “show what you can do as a team in a city”:

[That team] not only has to bring out the best in the police department — in other words it’s not just about the chief or the command staff [–] your best team members are often those folks who are line level patrol cops responding to calls [–]  but it also has to involve really working effectively with other city departments. It’s amazing how cities of any size can be “super-siloed” when it comes right down to it, and that’s a factor. And then perhaps most importantly [working] with the community overall. And that’s something that historically we don’t do so well in policing — we tend to like to tell the community how they *should* be policed as opposed to listening to the community tell us what they see as their priority.

He also warned, as Ms. Wallace emphasized,  that “Any police department that is content to rest on its laurels … any time you take that approach, you’re already behind.”

Lorig Charkoudian (who has declared herself a 2018 candidate for one of the three District 20 delegate seats) commended the council for an open, deliberate and deliberative process that resembles the kind of “community led policing” she advocates.  (Here’s one description of a “civilian led model,” authored by ex-Baltimore police officer Michael Wood.)

In his remarks to the council, MCCRC’s Thomas Nephew said that

…There are many ways that a police chief and her (or his) department can have a profound impact on the rights and liberties of Takoma Park residents — and on the trust that all of us want to have that our police force is aware of and sensitive to those rights and liberties.

The issues involved can range from things as simple as transparency in posting department policies, to processes of equipment procurement, attitudes on the use of force vs. de-escalation, so-called “countering violent extremism” programs, working together on new opportunities for police accountability (e.g., civilian participation in trial review boards), and guaranteeing the rights of free speech, due process, freedom from unwarranted searches and seizures, and equal treatment under the law for all Americans, to name but a few.

As the saying goes, “personnel is policy.”  We would like to learn what potential TPPD chiefs think now about specific issues like those I’ve listed above, and what kind of dialogue they would welcome as such issues arise.

What can you do?

  • If you’re from Takoma Park, please participate in a survey about what you’re looking for in a police chief.  (The final question asks which ward you live in; if you’re not sure, consult this map or the linked street directory.)
  • Come to the next public meeting about police chief selection:
         June 29, 7pm
         Azalea Room
         Takoma Park Community Center
         7500 Maple Avenue
         Takoma Park, MD 20912
    If you’d like to make a statement, keep it to under 3 minutes (less than one double-spaced page), and consider sharing it with us at MCCRC by sending it to mococivilrights@gmail.com.
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