2019 | Government

Public Poll Adds to Debate about Next Police Chief

Citizen survey gets 810 suggestions for top traits, skills for next leader

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The portal to the online police chief survey closed at 6 p.m. April 5.

Montgomery County Office of Public Information

The discourse surrounding Montgomery County’s next police chief is gaining voices every day, with government leaders and social justice activists speaking out and findings from a citizens’ survey being tabulated.

An online survey that closed Friday had 810 responses. The questionnaire asked about the qualities and character traits they want in a police chief to replace J. Thomas Manger, who retired this month.

Given the qualitative nature of a portion of the questions, gathering the data will take some time, and county spokesman Ohene Gyapong said the county’s public information office is working to make the results public as soon as possible.

The police department and Fraternal Order of Police wanted to add responses from their leadership even though the survey is closed, so more entries could come, Gyapong said.

County Executive Marc Elrich has said a “wide variety of people” will be involved in choosing the new chief, and the office plans to model a nationwide search after Baltimore County’s approach, which included public meetings and an interview panel.

At-large County council member Evan Glass sent a letter to Elrich on April 1 requesting a candidate with a strong commitment to a more-inclusive community.

“As Montgomery County’s first LGBTQ councilmember, I believe that we must hire a police chief who has extensive experience in recruiting, training and leading officers to effectively handle hate-based crimes and incidents,” Glass wrote.

Hate-bias incidents declined in the county in 2018, according to the police department’s annual report released in March. Religion and race remain the primary factors in these incidents.

Glass wrote members of the LGBTQ community still struggle to trust police, citing a 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality showing a majority of transgender people experienced some form of mistreatment by officers.

Glass recommended mandatory police training on responding to LGBTQ hate crimes, same-sex domestic violence and using preferred pronouns when addressing transgender people.

Improving police and resident relations was also the topic of a letter to Elrich from At-large County Council member Will Jawando’s, supported by his eight colleagues.

Jawando called for transparency in the hiring process, with Manger’s retirement presenting “a unique opportunity to strengthen the relationship” between both sides.

About 55 percent of the subjects involved in reported use-of-force cases were African American, according to the county police’s annual report for 2018. African Americans make up less than 20 percent of the county’s population.

Jawando has said there are “serious issues” leading to “distrust and mistrust” in communities of color, making it difficult for residents to feel safe as well as police to do their job.

Jawando was among the leaders to speak at the Silver Spring Justice Coalition’s rally on Sunday, a protest to the county police department’s finding that the officer-involved shooting of Robert White in June 2018 was justified. Howard County prosecutors came to that conclusion last year, and the department echoed the ruling in a memo to Elrich released last week.

“It is a sin and a shame that the police found Officer Badgujar’s actions to be ‘lawful and justified,’” said Stephanie Thompson, White’s niece, in a statement. “… My uncle was brutally slain and he should still be alive.”

The coalition is a collection of social justice organizations that came together after White’s death, and Sunday’s rally was its third such event. The group is advocating for changes in policing regarding stopping residents and wants officers to be more involved in their communities.

Coalition member Laurel Hoa of Showing Up for Racial Justice, Montgomery County, has said the group is working to get residents more involved in the police chief selection beyond the survey, which they didn’t feel was enough.

Charlie Wright can be reached at charlie.wright@bethesdamagazine.com