Credit: By Kate Masters

The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones to take over the department, ending a search that extended for most of the year.

Tuesday’s confirmation followed pointed questions from council members on how Jones, a 34-year member of the force, would adapt to evolving standards for law enforcement. The interview included several commitments from Jones on ways to improve accountability, communication, and community relations with the department.

“We have very high standards in Montgomery County,” Council President Nancy Navarro said at the start of the interview. “That’s the context here. We want to support the department, but we also have a lot to do to ensure we gain back the trust of the community.”

County Executive Marc Elrich selected Jones as the nominee for the position after his two previous picks — Tonya Chapman and Darryl McSwain — withdrew from consideration.

Takoma Park Police Chief Antonio DeVaul, an early finalist, also withdrew from the process in July, leaving Chapman as the only remaining candidate.

Council members complained about a lack of transparency throughout the search for a successor to former Chief Tom Manger, who retired in July.

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Chapman’s candidacy was reported in several news outlets before it was relayed to the council. She was later scrutinized for her tenure as chief in Portsmouth, Va., where she awarded a medal of valor to an officer who shot a fleeing burglary suspect in the back.

Elrich, in passing over Jones, previously said an outside candidate would be necessary to implement change within the department.

Jones received endorsements from several police chiefs across the country, including Manger, but Elrich initially declined to nominate him, saying, “Marcus [Jones] is a good guy, but for the kind of change you expect, you want someone from the outside.”

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Even as council members asked pointed questions of Jones on Tuesday, they acknowledged the difficulty of the process and his own role in leading the department as the search continued.

“You haven’t just been ‘acting’ in this job,” Council Member Andrew Friedson said. “You’ve been doing this job for months.”

Jones’ salary will be $225,000.

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Police reform has been a focus for Elrich and the current council, which recently introduced legislation that would mandate community policing practices. Council members are currently considering the establishment of a police advisory committee, and already passed a bill that mandates external investigations of officer-involved shootings in Montgomery County.

The council’s questions on Tuesday followed similar lines, with all nine members quizzing Jones on ways he would repair community relations. Faith in the department had been strained, many said, after several incidents of officer misconduct, including the use of a racial slur by a white officer and an officer-involved fatal shooting that was later ruled to be justified.

Elrich, though, has questioned whether the victim of the shooting should have been stopped on a residential street, and several community groups expressed frustration in how the subsequent investigation was conducted.

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“As we’ve discussed, law enforcement is going through a transformation,” Council Member Will Jawando said during the interview. “And we need to figure out, ‘How do we police in the 21st century?’”

Jones committed to several new initiatives within the department, many of which he previously discussed with Elrich when the two met in September to discuss Jones’ nomination. As chief, he plans to introduce several policies to minimize excessive force, including one proposal that all officers carry Tasers as a less lethal choice of weapon.

Police will also be required to intervene if they witness excessive force by another officer in the field, regardless of rank or tenure, Jones said. He plans to introduce the new policy as a component of police academy training to acclimate new officers to the idea as early as possible.

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Other proposals emphasized community policing, a policy that urges officers to build ties in the neighborhoods they patrol. There are several challenges currently limiting the department, Jones said, including low recruitment numbers and what he described as record turnover even among late-career officers.

“It’s going to continue to be a challenge moving forward,” he said during his interview. As the department patrols a growing population, Jones said he would consider redistricting or reorganizing patrols so that officers could cover a smaller beat.

“In order for my officers to do everything you want, they need time,” he said. “And if you’re running from call to call to call, you just don’t have the time to do all those things.”

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To further increase transparency, Jones said he would pursue an independent audit of the department’s policies and practices on traffic stops.

When several council members addressed recent communication problems — including an officer suicide initially labeled as a homicide and a car crash victim who the department originally said was shot — Jones said he was considering bringing in a civilian spokesperson with a media background.

But he declined to endorse an upcoming state Senate bill that would allow the public to access police disciplinary records — currently considered “personnel records” and shielded from Public Information Act requests under state law.

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“I’d need to look at that much more closely before I commented,” Jones told Jawando, who asked him to weigh in on the legislation.

The issue of publicizing police records is a flashpoint for officers and unions across the country, including local FOP Lodge 35, a union representing Montgomery County officers, Jones said.