ROCKVILLE—County Council member Will Jawando urged transparency and community involvement in the selection process for a new Montgomery County chief of police in a letter to County Executive Marc Elrich on March 18.
Jawando, joined by all eight of the other council members, wrote the letter to Elrich as a call for a more open selection process. The current police chief, J. Thomas Manger, announced earlier this year that he will be stepping down from his position in April. He served in Montgomery County for 42 years.
“It has become clear that transparency is key to building stronger police-community relations,” they wrote. “An open and inclusive search for a new police chief is an important first step as we usher in a new era in Montgomery County.”
Manger’s upcoming departure from the department means that the search for his replacement will soon be underway. Jawando’s letter to Elrich comes on the heels of his work on the Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency Act, or LETT Act, which calls for an independent and impartial investigation into situations where there has been an officer-related death.
Under the LETT Act, when an officer is involved in the death of an individual an inquiry that reviews the circumstances of the event must be performed by at least two experienced investigators from an independent law enforcement agency.
Manger explained that in recent years the increasing use of cell phone camera footage in altercations with police has helped to expose abusive officers and allowed for more accountability than ever before.
According to the Montgomery County Police Department, in 2018, 55 percent of subjects involved in incidences that included the use of force were African American. This is a disproportionate amount of arrests given that the county is roughly 18 percent African American according to the Census Bureau.
“I think having a diverse set of candidates is important,” Jawando said. “We are a majority community of color now and have been for a while and certainly the people who interact with our crime and justice system are disproportionately people of color.”
Council involvement, especially early in the process of selecting a new police chief, is unusual. Jawando explained that in the past, the process has been treated like many other administrative or director level positions, one that’s done primarily behind the scenes.
“I think normally that type of process is fine for other appointees, but I think particularly in the case of a police chief there needs to be a more open process,” Jawando said.
Councilmember Andrew Friedson is one of the other members who co-signed the letter to the county executive. He felt that urging for transparency in the selection process was important because the police chief position is a critical role within the county.
“The process to select a new chief should be defined by inclusivity, transparency, community input, and communication,” he said. “It should be approached with an open mind and with careful scrutiny.”
From start to finish, finding and selecting a new chief of police can take months. Chief Manger explained that his selection process for him, almost 16 years ago, took upwards of six months. It involved multiple kinds of interviews, like community meet and greets and panel style meetings with members of government and residents in the area.
Back then, Manger explained, Montgomery County was looking for candidates who had experience running large police departments and had a record of engaging with the community.
“I think what we’re looking for now is someone who has got experience in a large community that understands the importance of accountability, transparency and community engagement,” Manger said. “All of those things are really job requirements now when 20 years ago, they didn’t have as much importance. Those things are at the top of the list in terms of selecting a new police chief.”
In this new search, Manger expects the county will look for candidates who have similar characteristics and an understanding of community policing methods.
“I think what’s important for folks to understand is that communty policing is not a program, it’s a philosophy,” Manger said.
Community policing, he explained, involves engaging the community in setting priorities for how officers should inteact with the public. An example is having officers in schools. But rather than being there in purely disciplinarian roles, officers should work with kids and be mentors. They are often there as coaches and in some ways, educators as well.
He also noted that taking input from residents about problematic or dangerous areas is a form of community policing. Having officers engage with the community and put more resources into programs and youth outreach are principles of community policing that make neighborhoods safer and healthier.
“All of those things are part of a community policing philosophy that I think is very successful in Montgomery County,” Manger said.
Although the chief has many administrative tasks to manage in a day-to-day capacity, they also set the tone for the whole department.
“As chief, you can make policies, you can make sure that you’re doing the right kind of training, but you also have to have a culture where everyone is onboard with that,” Manger said.
He explained that a combination of listening to your community and listening to your own officers creates the right environment for a respectful and effective police department.
Manger is aware of how important a transparent selection process will be in finding his replacement.
“There are cities and towns around this country where folks don’t have a lot of trust and confidence in the police and I think transparency in selecting a new police chief is important because of the level of importance that policing has in the community,” he said.