2021 | Government

Chief says some officers might leave to work in areas ‘more accepting’ of law enforcement

Council public safety committee looks at retention, recruitment efforts

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Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones said Thursday that veteran police officers might leave the force to go to other departments in places “more accepting” of law enforcement.

Jones made the comment while addressing concerns about how to retain officers when police departments are under increased scrutiny.

Talking with the County Council’s Public Safety Committee on Thursday, Jones and others from the police department also addressed virtual recruitment efforts and organizational changes that are planned.

Susan Farag, a legislative analyst with the council, presented data on Thursday that showed that 47 officers either retired or resigned from the department in fiscal year 2020, compared to 40 in FY19 and 24 in FY 10.

Farag noted that Montgomery County’s starting salary for a police officer, at $52,500, is one of the lowest among law enforcement agencies in the greater Washington region. She said that’s a challenge for recruiting due to the county’s high cost of living.

Fairfax County police have a starting salary nearly $5,000 higher than Montgomery County’s.

Council Member Sidney Katz, who chairs the committee, said he was concerned about the pay differential.

“We need to be competitive, and if we’re going to be continuing to attract the best of the best to be in Montgomery County, then we need to be competitive to ensure that,” he said.

Council President Tom Hucker later asked Jones whether he thought a lower salary was a factor in the officers’ decision to retire. Jones said every officer who resigns has an exit interview, and a “good majority” are veteran officers, as opposed to new officers realizing the job isn’t for them.

Some veteran officers leave the department because their spouse has gotten another job, Jones said. But in other cases, officers seek a job in another police department in a community that is “more accepting of law enforcement.”

“It’s not so much about whether they’re earning more pay,” Jones said. “They’re not leaving to go to a police department generally here in the Washington Metropolitan area. They’re actually leaving to go to other places in other parts of the United States, or in Maryland. Maybe not so much in a region such as Baltimore or Washington.”

Department increasing digital recruitment outreach

Nicholas Augustine, the police department’s personnel director, said the department had been working on improving its recruitment efforts for several years prior to the pandemic. One challenge is getting applicants to take a test and move to later stages of the hiring process.

Augustine said that a few months before the pandemic, in November 2019, the police department opened an online test for those who couldn’t take one in person. The remote option was extended to all applicants when the pandemic began nearly a year ago, he said.

Augustine said that in the most recent class of applicants that started in January, 271 of the 483 who applied (56.1%) took a test. In the previous six recruit classes dating to January 2018, the number who took a test was:

  • 208 out of 706 applicants in January 2018 (29.4%)
  • 178 out of 571 applicants in August 2018 (31.1%)
  • 116 out of 412 applicants in January 2019 (28.1%)
  • 186 out of 582 applicants in August 2019 (31.9%)
  • 158 out of 596 applicants in January 2020 (26.5%)
  • 195 out of 464 applicants in July 2020 (42%)

Augustine said the police department has expanded its virtual recruiting efforts through online “Ask a Recruiter” events, in place of career fairs normally held on college campuses.

“It does give us a greater option,” he said.

Reorganization planned

During Thursday’s briefing, Jones told the committee that County Executive Marc Elrich spoke with him this week about moving forward with a plan to “reorganize” parts of the police department.

Jones said it’s an idea he first presented last summer, and is aimed at increasing efficiency.

One change would be the addition of two internal affairs investigators to help alleviate a backlog of complaints both from within the department and the community.

“The increased use of body-worn cameras in an investigation requires a lot of time and energy for these investigators to go through and document, review video footage, all of the like,” he said.

Jones also said there is a plan to eliminate District Community Action Teams in the 1st and 2nd Districts (Rockville and Bethesda areas). However, additional officers are needed, the department can accommodate that, Jones said.

Jones added that next month candidates for an assistant chief position will be interviewed, with the goal of sending a nomination to Elrich in late March or early April.

The assistant chief, Jones said, will oversee policy and planning, the public information office and community engagement.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com