- The Washington Times
Thursday, July 25, 2019

Members of the Montgomery County Council are questioning County Executive Marc Elrich’s decision to pass over acting police Chief Marcus Jones and nominate Tonya Chapman, a former police chief in Portsmouth, Virginia, to lead the county’s troubled police force.

“We have a candidate, an internal candidate who knows Montgomery County, who knows the issues affecting our residents, who knows some of the challenges our system faces and knows how we can be better,” said council member Craig Rice, District 2 Democrat. “It’s hard for me to imagine an external candidate with the same kind of understanding.”

Council member Gabe Albornoz, at-large Democrat, said he is measuring candidates’ qualifications against those of Chief Jones, a 34-year veteran of the force whom he called a “very strong internal candidate.”

“I am going to look for somebody who is more qualified or in a better position than he might be — and that is going to be a tough bar to cross,” Mr. Albornoz said.

He said he has some questions for Ms. Chapman, who resigned in March amid allegations of poor leadership, lack of transparency and low officer morale. He also has questions about an email on morale and toxicity she had sent to the Portsmouth force that was leaked to the press by disgruntled officers. She resigned after the leak was publicized.

Mr. Albornoz said he is giving Ms. Chapman “the benefit of the doubt” and the council is meeting with her this week to get some answers.

Ms. Chapman, the first black woman to lead a police force in Virginia, had served for three years as Portsmouth’s chief before her abrupt resignation. In her resignation letter, she said she was not certain as to why she was “forced” to resign but posited that officers “did not like taking direction from an African American female.”

“There was a management difference and people leave all the time for management differences,” Mr. Elrich recently said of Ms. Chapman on a radio program. “It’s kind of unfortunate for her that people have focused on this, rather than looking at a career in other places where — if you talk to anybody in any other places where she’s been — they say good things about her.”

The Democratic county executive has said he is looking for a candidate who can bring about change to the department — especially in the wake of several recent incidents: an officer-involved fatal shooting of a man last year in Silver Spring that outraged residents, a video of a white officer using a racial slur in an encounter with black men in May and an officer accused this month of excessive force in making an arrest.

Council member Sidney Katz, District 3 Democrat, said he would have been pleased to vote for Chief Jones for the permanent position. He said he is processing information and preparing questions for Ms. Chapman before determining how he will vote on her nomination.

Mr. Katz said community policing is an important focus for the next chief and “that is a trait we have had in the police and a trait we need even more so for the future.”

The council is to vote on the nominee in September; Ms Chapman will need at least five affirmative votes to be confirmed as police chief.

Ms. Chapman began her law enforcement career in the Arlington County Police Department in 1989; by the time she left in 2011, she was a captain. She served as the deputy chief of police in Richmond for about three years. She then served as deputy secretary of public safety and homeland security of Virginia for a couple years before she took charge of the Portsmouth force.

Chief Jones has served as acting chief since May, the second leader to serve as interim chief following the retirement of longtime chief Thomas Manger in April. He has served Montgomery County since 1985 and has worked in drug enforcement, the investigative division and most recently as assistant chief of police.

Chief Jones declined to comment.

• Sophie Kaplan can be reached at skaplan@washingtontimes.com.

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