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‘Protecting the Democratic Process Itself’

Alum Takes Over as Capitol Police Chief in Wake of Jan. 6 Riot

By Chris Carroll

J. Thomas Manger ’76 portrait

J. Thomas Manger '76 emerged from retirement to take the reins of the United States Capitol Police following a violent attack last January by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Photo by Eric Kruszewski

A police chief for decades in D.C.’s two biggest suburban counties, J. Thomas Manger ’76 knows well the procedures for backing up law enforcement agencies facing unrest in the nation’s capital. As he watched a mob storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, on live TV, brutalizing badly outnumbered U.S. Capitol Police and District of Columbia officers, it was clear those steps weren’t being followed.

“I was alternately angry and in tears,” Manger said. “I just wanted to grab 150 of my cops and go down there.”

Except he no longer had officers to lead into the fray. After 15 years as Montgomery County, Md., police chief, he’d turned in his badge in early 2019 to enjoy time with his wife and teenage children while easing into a less life-and-death assignment as legislative director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. Now, for the first time, he regretted retiring.

He wouldn’t have to for long. Congressional recruiters quickly recognized that Manger’s blend of D.C. smarts, emphasis on community engagement and dedication to officers’ well-being made him an ideal successor to Steven Sund, who resigned as Capitol Police chief a day after the attack.

Manger started his third posting as a police chief in July, making clear he doesn’t consider his job one of cleaning house or fixing a broken department. While the force couldn’t keep rioters out of the Capitol, it did accomplish—with much individual heroism—the imperatives of protecting lawmakers and allowing the 2020 presidential election certification to proceed.

Just as in previous top jobs, he’ll focus heavily on relationships, said a former assistant chief in Montgomery County who calls Manger a mentor. That includes building ties with his officers, the community he’s sworn to protect and community leaders (no shortage of those on Capitol Hill, Manger jokes).

“He’s not going to go in and fire a lot of people, or pound his fist and say, ‘We’re doing things my way now,’” said Luther Reynolds, now police chief in Charleston, S.C. “A lot of his leadership is based on listening and knowing what to do with that … Tom’s approach is, ‘Let’s find what’s working well and build on it.’”

The commitment to serve rather than dominate a department or community was strongly inculcated in him in University of Maryland criminology classes, Manger said—although his first job out of college as an Ocean City summer cop in 1976 was far from a leadership academy. “I think they gave us a week of training and then sent us out with a gun and a badge,” he said.

He was living with his family in Silver Spring and applying for jobs throughout the region when he got the call from Fairfax County, Va. Over 27 years, he worked his way up to chief, a position he held for six years before moving to Montgomery County. In those postings he focused on police accountability—for instance, introducing dashcams in Fairfax and wearing a body camera himself in Montgomery—and changing department cultures to embrace a “serve and protect” ethos.

Long before the killings of Michael Brown and George Floyd transfixed the nation on the toll of unequal policing, Manger worked on building bridges to marginalized communities; today, he said, much has changed for the better in both style and substance from the early days of his career, when his jaw dropped at racial slurs casually tossed about in squad rooms.

Leading the U.S. Capitol Police Department—which suffered widespread physical and psychological injuries during the Jan. 6 attack, including the deaths of several officers and the resignations of many others since then—he focuses on the stresses of policing in the 21st century, to support his officers and reshape a national narrative he worries will make it harder to carry out the department’s unique charge. “There’s no other police agency,” Manger said, “that does what we do—protecting the members of Congress and protecting the democratic process itself.”

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