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New Capitol Police Chief on What the Force Learned from Jan. 6

“We need more cops. We need more equipment. And we need more training.”
August 11, 2021
New Capitol Police Chief on What the Force Learned from Jan. 6
UNITED STATES - JULY 23: J. Thomas Manger, the new chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, is seen during his swearing in ceremony at the Senate steps of Capitol on Friday, July 23, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Like millions of other Americans, Tom Manger watched the January 6th insurrection unfold on television from the comfort of his suburban home.

Unlike most other Americans, Manger saw it as a call to “quit the good life” of retirement and get back to work. “For the first time since I retired I thought I had to be a cop again,” Manger said.

Manger, 66, had been retired for about a year from the Montgomery County, Maryland, police department, where he had served as chief for fifteen years. Upon his retirement, the county fathers thought so much of his efforts that they renamed the county’s police headquarters after Manger. He also recently served on the executive board of the Major Cities Chiefs Association—a professional organization of police executives representing major police departments in the United States and Canada. Before his time in Montgomery County, just north of Washington, D.C., Manger served for six years as the police chief in Fairfax County, Virginia, just south of Washington.

During his tenure in Montgomery County, Manger’s officers responded to the 2015 Freddie Gray riots in Baltimore. During his tenure in Fairfax County, Manger participated in the 2002 D.C. sniper investigation. After 42 years as a highly decorated officer, he was ready to spend time with his family. “I was at home and loving it,” Manger said. He puttered around his house. He went on lacrosse outings with his teenage daughter. “Hey I was happy,” he said. “If you had asked me on January 5, I wouldn’t have a single thought about going back to work. I was doing consulting work, trying to guide my profession a little bit, but enjoying being retired. I did not miss the 24-hour stress of being a police chief.”

Then came the insurrection. “I got very emotional. It was horrible. I watched cops getting hurt just trying to do their job so the members of Congress could do their job. It just shook me.”

Steven Sund, the tenth chief of the United States Capitol Police, resigned in the wake of the insurrection. He was replaced temporarily by Yogananda Pittman, who now serves as the deputy chief. Manger decided to apply for the chief’s post when it came open. “I knew, for good or ill, they would probably go outside of the department to hire their next full-time chief,” Manger said. “I thought—with the experience I have and the relationships I have in law enforcement—I thought I could make a difference.”

He inherited a force that, following the insurrection, was seen as being in disarray. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for Sund’s resignation, citing “a failure of leadership at the top” of the department. Reports published on CNN and elsewhere spoke of a morale problem, difficulties with staffing, and a lack of training and proper equipment. NBC reported that officers complained about long overtime hours and noted criticism that came from all sides of the political spectrum after January 6.

“They did not fail,” Manger said of the Capitol Police on that day. “They held. And Congress was able to do their job. And not one member of Congress was harmed.”

Prior to Manger coming on board, more than a dozen current and former Capitol Police officers, Capitol security officials, lawmakers, and aides told CNN that not nearly enough had been done to address the security failures exposed by the January 6 attack. As the network’s reporters summarized last month:

The mere shock of the event, and the criticism that followed, has pushed the US Capitol Police Department to make some quick changes—but the sweeping reforms that are widely seen as necessary to prevent a similar attack remain elusive, especially an operational and cultural overhaul of the department that some believe will take years to achieve, if it can happen at all.

The Capitol Police Board gave Manger high marks upon his hiring, saying in a statement that he is “a seasoned decision-maker who will lead with integrity” and that his “commitment to listening, fairness and transparency will be key in rebuilding trust among USCP sworn officers and civilian employees.”

The new sheriff rides into town facing challenges big and small. A mask mandate in the House last month led to reports that people who don’t wear masks will be arrested—or could be, but Manger says that’s not the case. “We’re not arresting anyone for not wearing a mask,” he explained. “I put a directive out to my cops. The directive is pretty simple. We ask people entering our buildings to wear masks. If they refuse, then we tell them they have to leave. We’re not arresting anyone for not wearing a mask. But if they refuse to leave? That’s another matter. But I anticipate zero arrests going forward.”

Aware of the hyperpolitical nature of his new beat, Manger says he’s not going to play politics. “It is the only way to stay true to the job. I’m politically agnostic. I’ve met the members of the committees that have oversight. I’ve met Democratic and Republican leaders. They’ve been very helpful. What they’ve said is encouraging. They just want me to communicate with them.”

That being said, and this being Washington, D.C., Manger realizes politics is bound to be an issue. The family of Ashli Babbitt, the woman who was shot and killed during the insurrection, is suing the police department. And some members of the department were accused of assisting the insurrectionists, including by moving bicycle racks so insurrectionists could get closer to the Capitol. Manger said that after reviewing an inspector general’s report, incident reports, and dozens of other evaluations of what happened on the day of the insurrection, he remains proud of what the Capitol Police did. As for assisting the insurrectionists, “We had a few, not large numbers,” he said. “All of them have been investigated. Most were dealt with already.”

Manger is also dealing with the likelihood of PTSD in some of the officers. Many have retired early. Some have quit. Four officers who responded to the insurrection have committed suicide since the insurrection: Howard Liebengood of the Capitol Police and Jeffrey Smith, Kyle DeFreytag, and Gunther Hashida of the D.C. police department. “I hope all of my officers take advantage of the services available to them to deal with this trauma, and it is my job to communicate that those services are available,” Manger said.

That the Capitol Police needed a steady hand coming out of the insurrection is not in dispute.

One officer who testified before the congressional January 6th committee, Harry Dunn, told me prior to Manger’s swearing-in that “We need leadership.”

For his part, Manger defended Dunn and the others who testified, saying their voices “needed to be heard.” Manger also said he will be a tireless advocate for the department—even as others have criticized its efforts during the insurrection. “People who never knew or cared about the Capitol Police suddenly had a lot to say,” Manger said. “The courage of these men and women and their dedication to the job were on display for the public to see on January 6. It is my job now to make sure they have the resources, training, and support they need to do their job in this increasingly difficult environment.”

Manger said it boils down to basic needs. “We need more cops. We need more equipment. And we need more training.”

An experienced strategist and tactician in policing large angry mobs, Manger credits former D.C. police chief Charles Ramsey for developing strategies to deal with protests and riots. “When Chuck Ramsey came in and took over in 1998, I had just been appointed acting chief in Fairfax. He had this new idea of when you have big events or big protests like the World Bank protest that neighboring police departments could provide additional staffing. In Fairfax we were developing a civil disturbance unit—so we provided 150 officers.”

When Manger went to Montgomery County, he oversaw a civil disturbance unit that was trained, staffed, and had the proper equipment. It was used two or three times a year. “When you deploy folks at regional events regularly you get pretty good. When Baltimore asked us for help [during the Freddie Gray riots of 2015], it was a no-brainer,” Manger explained.

Some of the residents of the areas most affected by those riots, and some of those who also protested, gave the Montgomery County police high marks for their efforts in assisting the cops in Baltimore. Reporters who were on the ground during those riots—as I was—routinely ran across residents who said the force Manger sent into the breach treated people with “respect while also doing their job.”

Mark Zaid, a prominent civil rights attorney in Montgomery County, was cited in 2009 for flashing his lights to warn an approaching motorist that there was a speed trap ahead. He fought the ticket in court and won. Afterward he received a formal apology from Manger for the actions of his officer. “It is not our policy, nor do we train our officers to use this statute for citing drivers who flash their headlights to warn other drivers,” Manger said in an email which Zaid distributed to the Washington Post and the National Law Journal. “It is not always easy . . . but when we make a mistake, we need to admit it, and fix it,” Manger wrote.

Zaid thanked Manger in an email response, saying he appreciated the letter and “the affirmation that appropriate action has been taken.”

Others who remember Manger during his time in Montgomery County had similar experiences. Danica Roem, now the first transgender state representative in Virginia, was then working as a city editor for the Montgomery County Sentinel. “I covered Chief Manger at a symposium he hosted to hear specifically from trans people in Montgomery County. I also heard him talk about how protecting undocumented people matters for public safety as they need to feel safe talking to police to prevent crime or respond to it,” Roem said. “My interactions with him were always positive. He seemed to genuinely care about conducting outreach, not just waiting for people to come to him.”

Manger said it’s all about training and community policing—getting involved and being seen in the community you serve. “You find out what they want and what they need and you try to serve them,” Manger explained. “And that’s no different in Congress. It isn’t talking to them once. It’s a constant dialogue. My constituents are the 535 members of Congress, the thousands of staff members who support them, and the thousands of people who will visit the Capitol.”

Manger’s first few weeks on the job have kept him extremely busy. He routinely starts early in the morning, driving from his suburban home in Montgomery County to his office in the Washington and arriving around 7 a.m. He stays until late in the evening. “I think I’ve made it home once before 10 p.m. in the last two weeks,” he said. “And that was barely. You know I was thinking of taking the Metro to work every day, but the commute right now really isn’t that bad. I get the feeling that may change in the fall,” he said with a chuckle.

So far, a typical day for him includes meeting as many members of the department as possible, as well as lawmakers, and reading the reports on the insurrection and the recommendations drawn up by members of the department to fix its problems. “I try to get to the posts, catch a roll call, and see our guys doing their job. I want them to know, and I want to see what’s going on,” Manger explained.

In the afternoon, after most people go home, Manger said it quiets down a bit and he gets to walk around the Capitol complex and meet officers on their posts. He spends about three or four hours a day doing that. “It’s been very enlightening. And I will continue to do that. The only way they know you care about them is look them in the eye and have conversations. It makes for a long day,” he explained.

But Manger said it’s been worth it. He’s learned he needs more cops. “I’m not talking about increasing the staff, I’m talking about filling the jobs that are open. We have to recruit officers to stay ahead of attrition”—the attrition that increased following the insurrection.

Manger faces the problem all police chiefs face: The reputation of police nowadays doesn’t make for a lot of qualified candidates applying for work. “Who in the world wants to be a police officer today?” he asked rhetorically. “We know the national narrative.”

That makes hiring difficult. “Not everyone is cut out to be a police officer. You want to make sure you get someone who has empathy, compassion, and a spirit for public service with the courage to do the job,” Manger explained.

The biggest obstacle to overcome is what the general public fears most. “You get some people who just want to push people around. Some just want to carry a gun and a badge and do whatever they want. We’re not going to hire those people,” Manger said. “Look, we’re hiring from the human race, so the perfect police officer hasn’t been made. We want people who have a spirit of public service. Then my job is to train them, invest in their training throughout their career, and then hold them accountable.”

Technically, the department is the largest Manger has ever managed. The Fairfax and Montgomery County police forces each cover much larger terrain than the Capitol Police—hundreds of square miles—but have fewer officers. “The difference here is that we have to put officers at every entrance of every building we police,” Manger said. “And people might be surprised as to all the buildings we oversee”—not just the large Capitol building and the seven House and Senate office buildings, but also the three Library of Congress buildings, the Supreme Court building, and the U.S. Botanic Garden. The department also has jurisdiction over certain roads and park areas.

In addition, the Capitol Police is for the first time opening offices in California and Florida to enhance investigations and protection outside of Washington as well as to coordinate activities with local law enforcement. “It’s a tall order,” Manger explained. “But we have to have outreach in the areas that warrant us being there to stay on top of potential threats.”

This includes better intelligence than the Capitol Police had on the day of the insurrection. One of the many areas of improvement an inspector general’s report on the insurrection mentioned was getting better intelligence prior to a major event. In the back of Manger’s mind is something former chief Sund wrote. “What occurred on January 6th cannot be considered under any circumstances a protest, a rally, or civil disobedience,” Sund wrote. “This was a well-planned, coordinated, armed insurrection at the United States Capitol. The USCP does not have the manpower, the training, or the capabilities to handle an armed insurrection involving thousands of individuals bent on violence and destruction at all costs.”

Manger, when asked what he would do differently if he were faced with the same situation Sund faced on January 6, said he often thinks about that, and when he was interviewing for the job he now holds, he asked his interviewers if they were better prepared for such an event today.

“That’s the key. Preparation,” Manger said. “Are we better prepared today? Yes. But we still have a way to go. Perhaps we will have to be tested again. A lot of people who never even knew we existed have decided what this department is all about based on that one day. That’s not fair. This was a very good department before the insurrection and it’s a very good department now.”

The department was heavily criticized for a delay in calling out the National Guard to help, and Manger acknowledges this is an issue that has to be addressed. “We are having those discussions now. And in the end, I think we’ll have a more streamlined process to make sure we get the help we need more quickly. Again, better intelligence helps. Our reaction times need to be better. Whether someone else has the authority or the chief has the authority, it doesn’t matter, but we have to have a streamlined process.”

At the end of the day, Manger said the cops he oversees have to remember their oaths. “When you take this job, you take an oath of office to protect the Constitution—it isn’t your interpretation of the Constitution. Your personal feelings don’t matter. You have a job to do. And an oath to uphold. My cops will know what our mission is and will uphold the mission. If we were better prepared, most of the issues that sprung up would not have been a problem.”

Last Thursday, Manger and his wife attended a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House. He assisted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi off the stage. He smiled and sat quietly in the first row of seats across from President Joe Biden as the president announced that the police officers who defended the Capitol, the Congress, and the thousands of Hill staffers in the January insurrection would be honored with a Congressional Gold Medal. Manger, a tall man whose perpetual Tom Selleck mustache and dark hair have slowly turned gray over the last few years, was reserved and polite and, he said, “honored” to be at the White House for the ceremony. But he took it all in stride with an unassuming air.

But that is Manger’s way. Steady. Understated. Serious. He spoke about the honor that the medal and ceremony meant for his force. “The cops were really moved by this,” he explained. “We appreciated everything they did.”

As for the president, “I have a lot of respect for Biden,” Manger said. And ultimately he thinks there is no doubt Biden will support the Capitol Police. “He has a history of supporting cops”—and got to know the Capitol Police well during his six terms in the Senate.

While sitting in the Rose Garden and afterward meeting with the president, Manger reflected on the events of January 6. “I would never have believed something like that could’ve happened in this country. I know we’re divided on many issues. I understand that. We’ve always been able to respect difference. . . . But to see this kind of attack on democracy—I don’t care what their ideology is—I never believed we could have a situation like that. I just couldn’t believe what I saw.”

As he settles into the command of the Capitol Police, Manger said he is determined to make sure, of all things, that his children remain proud of him. “I hope they get the same thing from me I got from my dad. He never finished high school and he was the hardest-working man I’ve ever known. He made a good life for my mom, and I grew up being in awe of his work ethic. I hope something I’m doing rubs off on my kids so they understand an honest day’s work and conducting yourself with some amount of integrity and serving the public—there’s something honorable about that.”

As for his department, the cops, Congress and the rest of the country, his message is simple: “My job is to run the police department. That’s my focus. Not politics.”

Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy magazine. He successfully sued Donald Trump to keep his press pass after Trump tried to suspend it. He has also gone to jail to defend a reporter's right to keep confidential sources.