Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice

Issues > Criminal Justice

POLICE/COMMUNITY RELATIONS

Let me start by being crystal clear about one thing: Black lives matter.

It has become entirely too common that we see police resort to lethal force as their first line of defense, a phenomenon that disproportionately impacts African American citizens.

I don’t think the problem lies in police officers themselves — collectively and as individuals, we are fortunate to have brave, hard-working cops who want to make their communities a better place.

The problem is systemic. Crime follows poverty, and poverty all too often follows race, which leads to minorities being viewed with heightened suspicion. Add in the trend toward militarization that has grown over the last 30 years, and we have a real problem — if cops view themselves as paramilitary soldiers, then it’s easy for them to see the communities they police as hostile territory, and citizens can so quickly become “the enemy.”

We are fortunate in Montgomery County to have a highly professional police force, where the violence that has often characterized encounters between citizens and police nationwide is not a common trend.

This is no accident. Our police department has high educational standards, a constant and consistent training regimen, excellent leadership, and proactive community outreach programs.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing their work firsthand while attending the Montgomery County Police Department Citizens’ Academy, an outstanding community program that has operated since 1994, allowing participating citizens to get a close look at the work the department does, how decisions are made, and the challenges that police face.

I propose that a number of Montgomery County’s practices become the statewide protocol, including their Field Training Officer program that closely monitors rookie officers as they get the hang of the job, training in ways to de-escalate situations rather than relying on force, and community events to help bring law enforcement and the people they serve together to strengthen our community ties and our shared sense of purpose. 

The police and the communities being policed are a team, and it is time we all remembered that fact and acted on it.

SENTENCING

Maryland is too lenient on violent crime, and law-abiding citizens pay the price when offenders get early release and then commit violent acts again. We need stronger “truth-in-sentencing” laws to ensure that violent criminals stay locked up. Right now, prisoners convicted of violent offenses in Maryland may be released after serving just 50% of their sentence.

That’s not good enough. Someone who is convicted of a violent crime should serve, at minimum, 75% of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

At the same time, too many people are locked up for non-violent offenses. In particular, too many people are locked up simply for being poor, and unable to pay bail prior to trial. The cash bond system is in dire need of reform, and I would be interested in abolishing it altogether.

DRUG REFORM

People should not serve prison time for possession or use of drugs. Addiction is a medical problem, and we need to focus on getting addicts the help they need — stigmatizing their disease with threats of jail time will discourage people from seeking help.

In the case of cannabis, I am strongly in favor of legalization and regulated sale with taxes from marijuana sales funding a number of items in the state budget like schools and addiction counseling/rehabilitation.

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