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by Judith Hruz
If someone had asked former Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger on Jan. 5 if he was ready to come out of retirement and lead a major police department again, he would have said no.
He had retired from Montgomery County less than two years earlier – April 2019 – after 15 years as its chief and was enjoying having time for his hobbies, exercising, going to the beach and yes, doing some consulting work.
“I was very, very happy,” he said.
All of that changed Jan. 6.
Rioters were storming the U.S. Capitol, breaching secure locations.
“On that day, watching what I was watching, I knew I didn’t want to be retired,” he said.
He is no stranger to horrific crimes. While he was chief of the Fairfax County (Va.) Police Department in the six years before taking over in Montgomery County, terrorists flew an airplane into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and a year later, snipers terrorized Montgomery County and Northern Virginia.
So when he was approached about becoming chief of the United State Capitol Police, and was encouraged by colleagues, including former Capitol Police chiefs to take the position, he knew that is where he should be.
On July 23, the Olney resident took his oath of office as chief of the police department that has arguably been the most visible in the world for the past seven months.
On his fifth day on the job, Manger said he was “energized” to be part of the U.S. Capitol Police Department.
“There are great people here. The staff is so smart and so helpful,” he said. “I’m excited about it.”
And while the political arena has cast what he calls an unfair shadow over the department, most people have no idea the pressure carried by the department.
The men and women who guard the U.S. Capitol are the most visible of the police force, but the Capitol Police department has a “very unique mission and very unique responsibilities,” Manger said.
The police department has to protect all 535 members of Congress – along with their staff, families and visitors – as well as all Senate and House of Representative buildings, and the Library of Congress.
Manger agreed that he came on board under “very challenging circumstances.”
“I look at what happened on Jan. 6 as an opportunity to make sure what we need to do to make sure this will never happen again,” he said.
Meant to be
Manger was born in Baltimore. Being a police officer was not his goal growing up; he had hoped to play professional football – for the hometown Baltimore Colts.
His family moved to Montgomery County, where he attended Montgomery Blair High School and headed to the University of Maryland in the days of Watergate with the hope of becoming a journalist.
“I wanted to right the world’s wrongs,” he said in an interview shortly after retiring from the Montgomery County Police Department.
In a criminology class, “everything changed.”
After graduation from Maryland, he began his career in law enforcement as a “summer cop” in Ocean City. It seemed fitting for the native of Baltimore – who spent his summer vacations there.
On Jan. 3, 1977, he was sworn in as a police officer in Fairfax County, where he rose through the ranks. He served as chief from 1998 to early 2004.
He then moved to Montgomery County for the next 15 years.
When Manger announced his retirement, County Executive Marc Elrich (D) issued a statement praising the outgoing chief.
“Chief Manger has set the bar high for police leadership, outstanding service both locally and nationally, and leaves the department and county better and safer than when he arrived,” he said.
During his career as police chief in Montgomery County, Manger received several national awards, including the 2007 Law Enforcement Award from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the 2016 Gorowitz Institute Service Award from the Anti-Defamation League, and the 2018 FBI National Executive Institute Associates Penrith Award.
Manger was also inducted into the Montgomery County Human Rights Hall of Fame in 2012.
He serves on the Cardinal’s Child Safety Advisory Board for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
Elected by his peers to national leadership positions, Manger served from 2014 to 2018 as President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), and from 2013 to 2017 as Vice President of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).
Major does not speak about his awards, unless pressed for information.
It is about being the police officer, and has been ever since he was a summer cop in Ocean City.
“I felt that was the right job for me,” he said in his post-retirement interview. “That never ended for me.”
He said nearly the same words again on his fifth day as chief of the United States Capitol Police.
“Something that has not changed since that summer job in 1976. I still have a passion for doing this job,” he said.
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