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Md. police chief: Community policing is essential to fighting hate crimes

"We cannot make these schools armed fortresses," said Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger, shown here in a file photo. (WTOP/Kate Ryan, File)

WASHINGTON — With the increase of hate crimes across the D.C. region, Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger said community policing is essential for officers to connect with diverse communities.

“We pay a great deal of attention to hate crimes and this past year has been tough,” Manger said of 2017.

What used to be disagreements are more frequently escalating to violence that requires police response, Manger told WTOP.

“If somebody disagrees with you, you can’t have a civil conversation — you have to shout them down and ridicule them. This has manifested itself in hate crimes, and that has an impact on our community,” he said.

The county’s annual crime report for 2017 has yet to be published, and while Manger could not provide numbers of hate crimes, he said the climate his police officers are working in is much different from even two years ago.

“They care less about the crime stats. What they care more about is what’s the relationship between police and the community. Every community, of our many different communities, are asking, ‘How are police treating me? How should I be treated by police?’ … We have put a great emphasis on community engagement, beyond what we’ve ever done in the past,” Manger said.

After 40 years wearing the badge, the chief said he hopes for a more peaceful 2018, though he admitted high-profile cases that dominated 2017 seem like the new normal. Reflecting on the major crimes of the last year, the murder of pregnant Howard County teacher Laura Wallen was top on Manger’s mind.

“When she was found murdered, it broke the heart of an entire community,” he said. “I think the Wallen family will never be the same, in my opinion, with the loss of their daughter.”

Though the crime rate remained flat in 2017 — up less than 1 percent from the previous year — there were gruesome stories coming out of Montgomery County, many surrounding gang violence.

“The gang-related homicides, when we’re taking bodies out of graves that are dismembered. We’ve got the two kids who were killed the night before their graduation — it’s just case after case,” he said.

Manger said no matter what the case, the pain of the victims’ families is what keeps him up at night. “Every one of these cases, whether it’s a homicide or sexual assault, even when some elderly person is bilked out of their savings, I’ll tell you … after doing this for 40 years now, it doesn’t get any easier,” he said.


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