One year and one day ago George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, who at the time was a Minneapolis police officer.
Chauvin, who had a history of abusing his power as an officer of the law, was convicted on all counts earlier this year. That conviction though does not suddenly ‘fix’ the issues that allowed, and even enabled, a person such as Derek Chauvin to be a menace to those he was supposed to protect.
Maryland has made significant strides over this last year in passing legislation, over the objections of Governor Hogan, to help teardown some of the systems that protect police officers from the consequences of abusing their power. The bills passed by our legislature increase police accountability and transparency.
Most importantly Maryland, which was the first state to pass a Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) in 1974, is now the first state to repeal the LEOBOR. This is a strong step in the right direction. For the police to be a valued part of the community, they must protect the community, and be held accountable if they hurt the community.
Our Gaithersburg police force has often been at the forefront of police reform and community policing standards. It was one of the early adopters of the recommendations that came out of the “Presidents Task Force on 21st Century Policing”. Even a progressive police department such as ours can improve though.
On January 8th, 2021 there was an officer-involved shooting that resulted in the death of 24-year-old Kwamena Ocran. While this is the first death caused by the Gaithersburg Police Department in 17 years, that does not minimize the tragic loss of life that occurred.
As a member of the Police Advisory Committee I have had the opportunity to listen to, and question, Chief Sroka regarding this incident. I’ve been impressed by the investigation and review procedures that required the Gaithersburg Police Department to be 100% hands-off. At the same time though, I have been underwhelmed by the apparent lack of transparency during the investigation process.
Factually, there is very little that the city or the police department can say during the investigation. The Montgomery County Police department performed all of the evidence review and they turned their findings over to the Howard County DA for review and liability determination. Even so, the general silence of the city and our police can be, and has been, interpreted as a lack of transparency. While it is not, that perception can affect our officer’s ability to work well with our communities.
Now, a year after the murder of George Floyd, and almost half a year after the police involved death of Kwamena Ocran, I hope that our Gaithersburg Police Department will continue to push forward and stay at the edge of police reform and community policing.
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