How the nominee for Montgomery Co. police chief plans to bulk up the force

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (left) has nominated Marc Yamada (right) to lead the police force.(Courtesy Montgomery County police)

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has once again looked within the Maryland county’s police department when choosing his nominee for police chief, tapping Assistant Chief Marc Yamada, a 35-year veteran of the force.

If confirmed by the county council, Yamada will replace Marcus Jones, who is retiring in July as head of the Montgomery County Police Department.

Elrich first thanked Jones for his three decades of service before announcing his nominee for the county’s 18th police chief on Wednesday morning at a news conference in Gaithersburg.

During his tenure with the county’s police force, Yamada has worked in four of the department’s bureaus.

“He was instrumental in the work of advancing our ‘drone as first responder’ program, and his quick thinking actions actually saved a life while he was on duty,” Elrich said. “Mark has shown he is not just a skilled officer, but a true public servant.”

How Yamada got the nomination

Changes in policing in Montgomery County and around the country over the past several years were prompted by outrage over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020.

Elrich said conversations about envisioning a new way to approach policing in the county were difficult, but well-received by the department’s officers.

“Not everybody was happy with everything we did,” Elrich said. “But at the end of the day, everybody’s committed to making sure they come out of this with the best police department in the country.”

He said that reaction to change is one reason he nominated a police chief from within the force.

“This department is comprised of dedicated officers who also have strong command staff,” Elrich said. “There wasn’t a reason for me to go outside.”

Yamada has overseen the Field Services Bureau and served as commander of the Fourth District, which is in the Wheaton area.

Yamada spoke of the department’s accomplishments during his time there, adding that he’s inheriting the “gold standard of law enforcement agencies.”

Yamada said the department has helped closed cases once considered “unsolvable,” including the 1975 disappearance of the Lyons sisters, the murder of Montgomery County Sheriff Capt. James Hall in a Rockville country club in 1971 and the capture of the D.C. snipers.

“And altogether, we overcame the pandemic,” Yamada said. “My goal is to uphold and build on that legacy of greatness.”

Jones spoke in support of the nomination, calling Yamada a “leader” and a “dedicated public servant.”

“The men and women of this department have the utmost amount of respect for him. That is something that’s very important and leadership is to have that support,” Jones said.

What’s on Yamada’s agenda?

The department’s top priority, leaders said, is addressing a shortage of officers.

“We can’t talk about community policing, we can’t talk about fulfilling people’s requests for increased patrols and increased presence, unless we get this department fully staffed,” Elrich said.

Yamada addressed the staffing shortage, saying the department has hired a private company to help with recruitment efforts. He proposed sending recruits out with officers who hold different specialties, such as drone pilots, canine officers or detectives, as a way to appeal to recruits.

He has also approached Council member Will Jawando about forming a partnership to reach out to educational institutions nearby, in particular historically Black colleges and universities and student athletes, he said.

“Hopefully, that’ll get us some more diverse candidates,” Yamada said. “It’ll help build the pool of recruits that we have. As you probably know, we are deficient in our women and our minorities, especially among our executive staff here. So those are things that will be a priority for us moving forward.”

If confirmed by the council, Yamada would be the first Japanese American to serve as the county’s police chief.

“A lot of people talk about diversity and the importance of the diversity,” Elrich said. “This is one of those steps that people will be able to look at and say, ‘Montgomery County talks about it, Montgomery County also does it.'”

When asked about the contentious issue of the role of police officers in schools, Yamada said he sees the benefits of officers having a presence.

“We identify problems inside the school, and then get we’re able to get in front of them when they transition outside of the school, which oftentimes happens,” he said. “Those types of things can’t be replaced if we’re not inside the schools.”

He said he’s looking for community input on that debate. In general, he spoke about enhancing community policing and working to maintain the public’s trust.

“We will aim to have open and honest communication, fostering relationships with mutual respect and understanding within the communities we serve,” Yamada said.

His next hurdle

He has the support of Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, but Assistant Police Chief Marc Yamada has to clear another hurdle before he can be appointed police chief.

Yamada faces a confirmation process that includes a public interview and a vote by the 11-member Montgomery County Council.

In a statement released when Yamada’s nomination was announced, Council President Andrew Friedson called Yamada “a distinguished public safety professional,” but also promised the council will perform its “due diligence” to review Yamada’s nomination.

At the news conference where Yamada was formally introduced as Elrich’s pick, Council member Sidney Katz, chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, told WTOP, “I have to tell you from what I know of Marc Yamada, he will do just fine during the interviews.”

Council member Dawn Luedtke, who also attended Wednesday’s news conference and also sits on the Public Safety Committee, said, “Marc, by virtue of his extensive experience within this department, knows the community’s needs, knows the department’s needs. … The officers are excited to have him on board.”

The county council’s interview of Yamada will be held Tuesday, June 11, and will be open to the public.

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Jessica Kronzer

Jessica Kronzer graduated from James Madison University in May 2021 after studying media and politics. She enjoys covering politics, advocacy and compelling human-interest stories.

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