ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger said County police have about 500,000 contacts with the public every year, and each one has the potential to go awry.
“What I tell my cops is that every single one of those contacts can either contribute and build trust, or it can damage trust,” Manger said.
Last week Manger and Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard sat down for a discussion at Montgomery College’s Rockville campus to discuss relations between police and the community. Manger talked about the struggles to build trust with the community and the potential for unrest in the County.
“Ferguson can happen anywhere, you have to pay attention to the relationship that the police department has with the community,” Manger said.
The discussion was part of a series, with speakers invited to Montgomery College to show how to have civil discourse on hot-button issues. Pollard questioned Manger about police reform asking if it was possible for the County to see riots similar to those in seen in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore.
“There are many communities across this country that don’t enjoy — one the philosophy this community has — but also many do not enjoy the relationship I think we promote at the Montgomery County Police Department,” Pollard said.
Manger said that there is a potential for unrest in the County, like in Ferguson and Baltimore, and that the relationship police have with the community is largely based on trust.
In the past few years with many police shootings caught on cellphone video, many have called for police-worn body cameras as a way for the community to keep an eye on its cops. Manger said the County was proactive in initiating that reform after going through a pilot program where some officers wore cameras for a year, and eventually making them a part of department policy.
Manger, along with members of the County and the County Executive, sat down for two forums in July. One was held in Germantown and one was in Silver Spring, following police shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and then the murders of five police officers in Dallas.
“When I go down to a homeowners association meeting in Bethesda and speak to them, I typically have a lot of support….when I am talking to a CASA meeting down in Silver Spring there’s less trust there,” Manger said.
Like at the community forums last summer, Manger pointed to his body-worn camera, saying he and some of his police officers had been wearing cameras for more than a year and that to the dismay of detractors of the police department, the cameras have only showed that cops are doing their jobs.
While Pollard and Manger touted Montgomery County Police’s record, there some dispute last year about how Montgomery County Police use their Tasers. The Baltimore Sun published a story about police Taser use, and reported that four people since 2009 who did pose an imminent threat to police, died after being shot with Tasers by Montgomery County Police.
After the story, the County funded an independent investigation into police Taser use that found Montgomery County Police officers do not overuse their Tasers.
Manger also spoke about a new executive order President Donald J. Trump signed that say federal immigration officials should deport people in the country illegally.
Since the order has been signed, rumors have spread about agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency raiding homes and deporting families. Although such raids have been confirmed in the County, Manger said he recognized the fear of many and restated County Police’s position that they do not help enforce immigration law.
Manger, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said he met with John Kelly, secretary of Homeland Security, to discuss the impact of the executive order on police.
“I told him how about we do things here in Montgomery County, the interests I have in terms of keeping community trust, and told him the fear and panic that was going on in our community because of these executive orders,” Manger said. “And the responses I got from him was everything that I would hope for.”
Students from Montgomery College’s criminal justice classes were among the audience last week as part of class requirement, but some of them were curious to hear what the police chief had to say given that some of them wanted to join Montgomery County Police.
Brian Jong, a student at Montgomery College, said he was reassured about what Manger had to say, but the conversation did not touch one key subject in his mind.
“They didn’t ask a lot of questions regarding race. It’s kind of a touchy subject, we really don’t want to talk about it,” he said.