Four Democratic candidates for executive in Montgomery County squared off in a debate on Sunday about big issues facing the county — including policing in schools and an increase in crime.
Four Democratic candidates for the Montgomery County, Md., executive squared off in a debate Sunday on big issues facing the county — including policing in schools and rising crime.
The latter was the first question the candidates discussed during the debate hosted by Bethesda Magazine.
Montgomery County recorded 35 homicides in 2021 – the highest in decades.
And the incumbent, County Executive Marc Elrich, said the county’s crime wave was part of a national trend.
“I think most people agree that it has a lot to do with the rise in mental health issues and a population that has been under unprecedented stress over the past two years,” he said.
He mentioned the need to increase mental health care clinics in the county.
“When I was a kid, there were clinics that were run by the county – mental health clinics in the county – and those clinics were taken down decades ago, and we haven’t replaced them.”
Businessman David Blair pushed back against Elrich’s comments.
“So I lose all energy when I hear these are national issues. The number of police officers we cut from last year’s budget really makes you scratch your head and how that relates specifically to what we’re seeing happening here in Montgomery County,” Blair said.
Councilman Tom Hucker said the county’s police department has been “hollowed out on patrol,” and that has affected crime in the county, particularly in the Silver Spring area.
“I represent Silver Spring,” Hucker said, “and it’s awful what happened with Public Safety and Silver Spring. Our patrol unit in our third precinct has really emptied out. They have more positions. vacant than I remember.
The county, he said, needs to increase officers’ salaries.
“Even the city of Rockville pays its police force more than we pay our officers, which is crazy,” Hucker said. “We must recruit the best officers and culturally competent agents, and we must pay them according to our high housing prices in our competitive jurisdictions.”
Hucker also suggested the county should implement a gun buy-back program.
Council member Hans Riemer said when he recently took his son for ice cream in Silver Spring, it was the first time he felt unsafe in the city.
“It’s unacceptable,” Riemer said.
“We need to focus on the right kind of priority in our policing by focusing on violent crime, on solving crime. And we also have to make sure that as we invest in public safety, we don’t want to go back to how things were,” Riemer continued.
“Many people feel unsafe in our community, not only from crime but also because of their interactions with the police.”
If elected, Riemer said, he would prioritize the root causes of crime and crime prevention, over responsive policing.
The candidates also reacted to Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Monifa McKnight’s plan to partially reintroduce police into schools after an increase in violence and a shooting at Magruder High School in January.
“I support the decisions she made,” the current county executive said. “I want to emphasize – part of this decision is that officers will continue to do nothing but enforce the criminal law. They will not be discipliners at school. They’re not going to patrol the hallways. They are not going to enforce school discipline. They are there for criminal events.
Elrich also stressed the importance of developing more mental health programs in schools.
Riemer and Hucker agreed that mental health professionals were needed in schools rather than officers.
“Trained counselors will be more effective in this role, and trained school security personnel can adequately know what is going on and whether the police should be called,” Riemer said. “…I would rather hire…violence prevention staff and every high school than just one police officer. I think we get a lot more out of it. »
A broader approach, Hucker said, must be taken to keep the school safe.
“We have lost 10 of our students since January to overdoses and suicides. We can’t wait,” he said. “…We need social workers and behavioral health workers in schools to take care of our students. It’s all the time. And that’s why we don’t have them.
He blamed the budget fights of recent years between the county council and the executive for not having the proper staff in place in schools.
Blair was in favor of reintroducing school resource officers into schools.
“Every student deserves to feel both respected and safe. And I believe we can have that with a school resource officer. The intent of the program was clearly protection from violence,” Blair said.
“I believe there was an opportunity to fix it, to fix it, to make it work for everyone,” he said.
The Democratic primary for all four candidates is June 28 and the general election will be held on November 8. No Republican has filed a candidacy yet.