Montgomery review board finds police complaint system faulty; Panel suggests giving chief 6 months to make changes


Giving Montgomery County's new police chief a honeymoon, a county agency has concluded that it's best to wait before creating a civilian review committee to watch over his department.

After a yearlong review, the county's Office of Legislative Oversight concluded there is no evidence of widespread police misconduct, but that minorities believe they are not treated fairly -- often because of the department's Byzantine method for reporting police misconduct.

The office yesterday recommended to the Montgomery County Council that Charles Moose, who took over the 1,300- member department in August, ought to be given six months to overhaul the police complaint system and the internal affairs department. Council Chairman Isiah Leggett, referred the report to the council's criminal justice committee.

Moose, 45, the former chief of police of Portland, Ore., has a national reputation as a civil rights expert. County Executive Douglas M. Duncan hired him in response to accusations of racial profiling by officers.

The police chief told the council yesterday he has begun some changes and vowed the department will change. "We have to," he said.

He warned, however, that he could be hampered by collective bargaining agreements that require police management to get permission from the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents rank-and-file officers, before initiating certain changes.

But Walter Bader, president of the FOP local, responded: "That's a red herring. They're trying to throw the blame on the FOP, and they're wrong."

Montgomery's police force has been under fire since the U.S. Justice Department began an investigation three years ago into complaints by the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that some officers target and harass minorities. The attacks were renewed last spring after white officers shot and killed two unarmed black motorists in separate incidents.

The oversight report found that officers as well as civilians are baffled by the system for filing complaints about police and that the department's Office of Internal Affairs is ineffective in handling complaints because of the system.

The report included a survey by Peter D. Hart Associates that showed that 79 percent of the county's white residents are confident in the Police Department, as are 61 percent of black residents, well above the national average.

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