Montgomery County police chief talks Baltimore, community relations

Montgomery County Police ride on an armored vehicle as they enforce curfew, Tuesday, April 28, 2015, in Baltimore, a day after unrest that occurred following Freddie Gray's funeral. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON — Like many area police agencies, the Montgomery County Police Department sent a contingent of officers to Baltimore on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday nights. They’ll also be back to assist over the weekend.

Police Chief Tom Manger says for many of the officers on the Montgomery County force, the crowd control in Baltimore “may have been the most intense, the most dangerous assignment that they have perhaps ever had in their career.”

Manger’s issued a newsletter to the officers under his command to tell them he’s proud of them “for the courage, the restraint, the professionalism that not only my officers showed, but police in general showed” in dealing with the crowds who, at times, pelted police with rocks, bottles and bricks.

On the flip side, Manger says, some things may have been lost in the coverage of Monday night’s violence: “If you talked to my cops, especially on Tuesday, most of the people that they dealt with — all day — were folks that were out there trying to rebuild their neighborhood, trying to keep the peace.”

Manger also says many of those people worked to calm crowds when tensions rose. Some, Manger says, “actually tried to be a buffer between those folks that were throwing the rocks at the police.”

Manger says he grew up in Baltimore, but is quick to add his family moved from the city when he was a teenager. Asked to analyze the relations between the Baltimore City Police Department and the public, Manger says, “I don’t think I can tell you what went wrong there.” He adds, “for many police departments, they’re paying for the sins of their fathers and their grandfathers.”

Manger doesn’t mention former mayor Martin O’Malley by name, but refers to O’Malley’s tenure, during which aggressive policing resulted in statistics that showed dramatic drops in crime. Referring to the policing methods used during O’Malley’s administration as mayor, Manger says, “some strategies have resulted in lower crime rates, but I wonder sometimes, what impact did it have on the relationship with the community?”

It’s Manger’s belief that, as bad as some community-police relations are now — and he doesn’t dismiss the deterioration of those relations in some communities — he says they were far worse in the past, when there were no cellphones to record misconduct. Montgomery County is planning a pilot program to equip police with body cameras, and Manger says he’ll be among those to wear one.

As to best practices for policing, Manger says there’s a difference between being effective and being aggressive.

“Obviously, we want to keep our neighborhoods safe, but you can’t do it at the expense of your relationship with a particular neighborhood or community,” he says.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. 

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