Council Unanimously Approves Act Requiring Independent Investigations After Officer-Involved Deaths
On Tuesday, the County Council unanimously enacted Bill 1-19, introduced by At-Large Councilmember Will Jawando. The Police Officer Involved Death - Independent Investigation, also known as the Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency (LETT) Act, is crafted to ensure that when a police officer is involved in the death of an individual, investigations into that officer’s conduct are independent, impartial and transparent. The LETT Act serves to eliminate potential conflicts of interest and help improve the public’s trust in law enforcement.
“I am pleased by the overwhelming support by all of my colleagues on the Council in recognizing the importance of this measure. Directing an independent review of police actions, when an officer is involved in the death of a resident, will protect both the integrity of the inquiry and the civil rights of our residents, especially those of color,” Jawando said. “An independent criminal investigation guards against bias, and the perception of bias. This bill serves all involved -- our officers, the prosecutors and our residents, and we believe that this transparency will build trust.”
Under the LETT Act, when an officer is involved in the death of an individual, at least two experienced investigators from an independent law enforcement entity will open an inquiry reviewing the circumstances of the case. If the decision is against filing charges, the LETT Act requires that the independent report be released to the public.
Councilmember Jawando added, “Transparency and accountability are essential to fair and equitable treatment of investigations into police conduct, especially when someone’s lost their life. Montgomery County is not immune to police-involved shootings. Less than a year ago, Robert White, a 41-year-old Silver Spring resident, was shot and killed in June 2018 in a parking lot near his home during a confrontation with an officer.”
While the State’s Attorney has an agreement with Howard County to consider criminal prosecution of officers involved in deaths, the LETT act would require a criminal investigation conducted by independent law enforcement entity. This, as well as the public report, are changes from current practice where Montgomery County Police conduct the initial criminal investigation of their own officers and do not report findings to the public. Illinois, Utah and Wisconsin have enacted similar laws.