GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
A council member challenged the mayor, city manager and police chief at last Monday’s Takoma Park city council meeting.
The ensuing discussion busted loose a couple of big topics regarding police: profiling and approachability.
Councilmember Kate Stewart, seconded by Terry Seamens, proposed a surprise, late-evening amendment concerning police photographing minors. The amendment was to a purchase order for three new police vehicles. It would have withheld the purchase until the police stop photographing minors who are not involved in criminal activity. Also the chief would have to write and show the council a general order establishing rules for photographing minors.
Ward 3 councilmember Kate Stewart discussed her amendment, April 13, 2015. “I’ve tried numerous times to ask for this conversation.”
The mayor, who runs the meetings and had not been given advance notice of Stewart’s amendment, said he didn’t want to conduct a vote on a subject without public notice. He also said he didn’t see the connection between purchasing police cars and photographing minors.
City manager Suzanne Ludlow said “I’m perplexed on this.” She said “I’d very much appreciate” not beginning a discussion at 11:00 PM. on an off-topic amendment to a purchase order.
“I’d very much appreciate that too,” said Councilmember Terry Seamens, “except that I’ve asked for that [discussion] on numerous occasions,” so they had “to back door the thing to get it before this council.”
Stewart said “I’ve tried numerous times to ask for this conversation to happen . . . . I’m feeling the need to force the hand a bit.”
Councilmember Jarrett Smith said, “sometimes we have to do certain things to get certain departments to hear us.”
Mayor Bruce Williams was on the spot. The mayor sets council meeting agendas. He apologized for not scheduling the issue. “I’m happy to schedule just such a conversation,” he said.
Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg (on right) and a city police officer answer a question regarding police cars at the April 13th, 2015 meeting.
Chief Alan Goldberg was on the defensive. The police HAVE changed policy on photographing minors, he said. And he already put out a new “general order” on the subject since the council raised the issue last year. The police still take photos, but they contact the minor’s parents “as soon as possible to let them know they were stopped”. Keep in mind, he said, that the under-aged “people who did the carjackings and burglaries in your neighborhood” were eventually identified by pictures and descriptions taken by Washington, DC police. “This is an essential piece of police work,” he said.
“We have a reason for stopping people.” he said, though it is not always clear to the person being stopped.
The problems, he said, come when parents only hear the minor’s side. The police, he said, make an effort to let the parents know why the minor was stopped and photographed.
But, he said, a police body-cam bill just passed into state law “renders this moot.” All conversations with police will be recorded, he said.
Councilmembers Stewart, Seamens, and Smith said they’ve had many constituent complaints about city police profiling minority male teens and young adults.
“I hear from young men in this community who feel targeted.” said Stewart. She said it alienates young men from the police. That alienation grows, she said, when police adopt policies and gear that make them seem more intimidating. Her concern was, she said, how “approachable our police department is to members of our community, particularly young men.”
Smith said he gets complaints “regarding photographing young males, primarily minorities. I hear this all the time.” Smith said a county counclmember told him “if it was white kids being photographed it would stop immediately.”
Stewart and Seamens, who has previously expressed concern about the “militarization” of the police, were concerned about the larger, more intimidating size of the new Ford Interceptor police cars. They are SUVs rather than the usual sedans.
The chief said that modern police cars are so filled with electronic gear that tall police officers can’t fit in a fully-outfitted police sedan. Intimidation is helpful in making traffic stops, he said. he cited a study that compared the rates of drivers fleeing police sedans vs. police SUVs. Fewer fled the SUVs. Larger police vehicles mean fewer dangerous police chases, he said.
Takoma Park police vehicles. Photo by Bill Brown.
Councilmember Seth Grimes noted that city police vehicles have changed from white to black in recent years.
The chief said black cars are more recognizable and visible than white ones. “We get a lot of compliments on those cars.”
In the end, Stewart, satisfied that the point was made, withdrew the amendment, and the purchase was approved.
In the midst of the sometimes tense discussion (several people started their remarks “With all due respect, . . .”) new city manager Suzanne Ludlow dropped her second hint that she might be working on ambitious reforms.
“I have a list of issues” she said, and “police approachability” is on it. She asked the council that if they have issues they should tell her. “I have my easel board up and I’m happy to add to the list,” she said.
The first hint came last week in Ludlow’s budget proposal. She has, she said, plans to change the budget process, opening it up and making it more transparent.
Next Monday the police chief is scheduled to give an annual police department report. Some of this conversation may continue then.
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