Fatal shootings by Montgomery County police would be investigated not by fellow officers but by detectives from outside law enforcement agencies under a plan outlined for the County Council on Tuesday by Police Chief J. Thomas Manger.
Manger, in a wide-ranging two-hour discussion of police practices, said he had no doubts about the department’s ability to fairly and impartially investigate alleged criminal conduct by its own. But with police across the country facing intense scrutiny over the use of force and the treatment of African Americans, Manger said the measure would add transparency.
“It’s about public perception, about public trust,” said Manger, who has led the 1,200-member force since February 2004.
[A look at fatal police shootings nationwide]
There have been no fatal shootings involving police officers in Montgomery this year. In 2014, there were two: An officer killed a knife-wielding man in a Takoma Park bank, and a Montgomery police sergeant shot his 25-year-old son, who was attacking the officer’s wife with gardening shears. Both shootings were found to be justified.
Police are investigating the death of a 40-year-old Burtonsville man last month that occurred two days after a Montgomery officer used a Taser on him.
Manger said he was working on the plan and was reluctant to identify the other police agencies. Such cross-jurisdictional task forces are complicated by collective-bargaining issues and other legal matters. He said he hopes to have the plan fully formed by the end of the summer.
“Unfortunately, I can’t make a decision to change things immediately,” Manger said. But he added, “We understand what needs to be done and we’re moving in that direction.”
Last month, Montgomery State’s Attorney John McCarthy announced that when he is presented by police with cases involving officer shootings or in-custody deaths, he will refer them to the Howard County prosecutor.
Manger said that despite recent incidents that have dominated social media and sparked civil unrest over the past year, he believed that policing is more professional and discerning in the use of force than ever before.
“Things are much better than they were 20, 30 years ago,” he said. “The issue now is that people are seeing that bad behavior.”
While reluctant to second-guess officers involved in the recent incidents around the country, Manger said it was critical that police receive training in how to de-escalate volatile situations so that use of force is not necessary.
The shooting death in November of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was wielding a toy gun in a Cleveland park, might have been avoided had the officers given themselves “time and distance” instead of reacting immediately, Manger said.
“It may be justified. It may have been legal. But was it necessary?” he said. “Could it have been avoided?”