ROCKVILLE—After a months-long candidacy process, the Montgomery County Council finally interviewed and voted to approve Marcus Jones as the county’s new police chief.
Jones has been serving the county police department in an acting capacity after Chief Thomas J. Manger retired last spring.
During much of the process, Jones was not mentioned as a major contender for the position. Over the summer, the field of candidates included Takoma Park Police Chief Antonio DeVaul and former Portsmouth, Virginia Police Chief Tonya Chapman.
However, in July, DeVaul withdrew his name from consideration for the position citing work he felt still needed to be done in Takoma Park. His withdrawal made Chapman the last remaining finalist, Public Information Officer Barry Hudson confirmed.
Later, in August, Chapman also withdrew her name from consideration.
Finally, back in September, Elrich nominated Jones to the police chief position.
“For the last five months, we have conducted the most open and inclusive police chief search in the county’s history. I have heard from residents, community-based organizations, labor leaders, religious leaders and county councilmembers, who have clearly stated what they want to see in their police chief,” Elrich said in a statement at the time. “They don’t want the status quo. They want to see changes that will make a good department even better and rebuild the trust that has been shaken by some recent interactions between officers and members of the public. I felt that it was important to look outside the department for new leadership. However, Marcus and I have discussed my expectations, and I am confident that he shares my vision and will carry out the changes I want to see.”
Councilmembers spent over an hour on Nov. 5, asking Jones questions and explaining which issues they think are most important in policing the county.
Council Vice President Nancy Navarro began by asking Jones a series of questions ranging from police accountability to community engagement and management.
In one of her preliminary questions, Navarro asked what plans the police department has to increase its diversity, given that most of Montgomery County is made up of people of color.
Jones explained that although the police department is continuously working on increasing diversity among its ranks, in recent years, it has had a real recruitment crisis.
“We must recognize that our largest difficulty is in attracting any recruits,” Jones said. “In my mind, we are in a recruiting crisis. The department has not filled our last two training classes, and our last class had 582 applicants, of which 314 of them took the entry test, which means that all of them did not participate in the process. In the past, we might have tracked double the number of applicants for this process.”
He explained that other jurisdictions could offer signing bonuses for new recruits, and the standard of the qualifications is higher in Montgomery County than in other areas, which are both factors that contribute to the low recruitment rates.
Jones went on to note that recruitment is an ongoing effort, and the department will continue to expand its talent base through things like social media, hiring initiatives and following best practices from other jurisdictions as well.
Navarro and Councilmember Will Jawando both touched upon community policing and non-confrontational tactics for police to interact with the community.
Jones explained that he plans on expanding community policing initiatives and wants to increase staffing in the department’s community relations division.
Jawando also asked Jones if he would be open to programs like Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS), which dispatches medics and crisis workers for instances like non-violent substance abuse, personal crises such as suicide prevention, assessment and intervention.
Programs like CAHOOTS make mental health professionals and medics the first responders as opposed to involving the police. Eugene, Oregon already has a CAHOOTS program in use and other areas like Denver, Colorado and New York City are considering implementing the program.
“I would be more than interested in looking at some of those programs,” Jones said. “I think there are many types of calls that exist that I think are not so-called ‘police calls.’ It’s just that we’re the easiest one to pick up the phone to make sure that somebody gets there to give someone else help.”
Councilmember Evan Glass switched gears when it came time for him to express his concerns. He noted that the police force could use more training to help officers who deal with LGTBQ issues.
“As the first LGTBQ member of the council, I’ve been speaking with many of the residents here about those issues, and there’s a sentiment that we need to better train our police department for the modern area,” he said. “Since 2015, there have been 49 hate crimes here in Montgomery County directly involving sexual orientation or gender bias and that frequency has only increased over those four years. Right now, 50% of all incidents are against transgender women of color and that is a regional systemic problem.”
Glass went on to explain that it’s important that the most vulnerable communities feel safe and comfortable around the police, which means training officers and equipping them with unbiased knowledge. That training, for instance, could include even basic information on an officer’s use of pronouns, he explained.
Navarro released a statement noting Jones’ commitment to moving the police department forward.
“Jones shares our common goal of ensuring that Montgomery County is a safe and welcoming community where every police officer treats all residents with respect and dignity regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, or class. He will lead the County’s highly respected police team by protecting and serving all residents,” she said.
The council’s vote was met with a standing ovation for the newly appointed Police Chief Marcus Jones in the meeting chambers.