Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger looks to put department on new trajectory

New chief expresses confidence in senior leadership team

U.S. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Sept. 17 on security plans for the Justice for J6 rally in support of January 6th rioters that is to take place on Saturday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
U.S. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Sept. 17 on security plans for the Justice for J6 rally in support of January 6th rioters that is to take place on Saturday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 13, 2021 at 5:00am

Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger is determined to ensure his department is not defined by the Jan. 6 pro-Trump insurrection. 

Since taking over a department hemorrhaging officers, consumed by low morale and criticized over its handling of the Capitol attack, Manger has sought to put it on a new trajectory.

He engages in ways his predecessors had not. Manger holds press briefings when notable incidents occur on Capitol grounds and communicates to the public what his department is doing and why.

In his days leading the Montgomery County Police Department, Manger would appear on the morning radio show “The Sports Junkies,” in one case to ask for the public’s help in a double homicide. One host referred to Manger as a “longtime buddy.” He also did video interviews with other outlets, including one about the body-worn camera program.

As violent internet chatter swirled in advance of a Sept. 18 protest for jailed Jan. 6 rioters, Manger made clear that his team was ready. That demonstration turned out to be sparsely attended, but officers were prepared, law enforcement partners were ready and Manger was a visible presence, walking the lines.

“January 6th should not define us, and that’s the point that I’m trying to make, and to regain the confidence not only of the members of Congress but regain the confidence of the public that we, in fact, can complete our mission and do it well,” Manger said in an interview with CQ Roll Call.

Manger, 66, was born and raised in Baltimore. At 15, he moved with his family to Silver Spring, Md., when his father, Tom, got a job as a staffer with the Nixon administration. After graduating from Montgomery Blair High School, Manger got a custodian job at a local newspaper; he kept that job throughout his college years at the University of Maryland, which enabled him to pay for school, and he became the first in his family to obtain a degree.

Captivated by the Watergate scandal and the reporting of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Manger initially planned to major in journalism. After taking a journalism class, Manger decided it wasn’t for him and eventually majored in criminal justice.

He graduated college in 1976 and took a job as a summer cop in Ocean City, Md. By January 1977, he started as a police officer with the Fairfax County Police Department. He became Fairfax County’s chief of police in 1998 and held that job until becoming chief of police for Montgomery County in 2004, shortly after the D.C. sniper terrorized the area. Manger ran that department until his retirement in 2019. He was president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association from 2014 to 2018.

Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger talks with former acting Chief Yogananda Pittman. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

‘Progressive’ thinking

Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones, an assistant chief under Manger, said his former boss was well respected and “very progressive in his thinking,” alluding to Manger’s openness to officer body cameras and efforts toward a more diverse workforce.

Manger wore a body camera, including in a 2016 interview with C-SPAN, the same year Montgomery County’s camera program got into full swing. Capitol Police officers do not wear body cameras.

“I think any police department, including the Capitol Police department, benefits from officers wearing body-worn cameras,” Manger said.

He said it makes sense for uniformed officers interacting with the public to wear them, but not necessarily detectives or those with specialized assignments. However, Manger was unclear as to whether Capitol Police would implement body-worn cameras under his leadership.

“I’d have to talk to the Capitol Police Board. And look, the members of Congress have opined in the past, before I ever got here, about body-worn cameras; some of them like them, some of them don’t. So I don’t think it’s a decision that I can make in a vacuum.”

The department lacks transparency in several areas. Its inspector general reports are not available to the public, and the force, as a part of the legislative branch, is not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. Arrest data is not searchable or sortable.

Congressional appropriators have directed the Capitol Police “to develop a policy and procedure for the sharing of information that follows the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.” They have also requested that Capitol Police Inspector General Michael A. Bolton make public reports “if they do not compromise law enforcement activities, national security, or Congressional security and processes without redaction.”

Manger is not a voting member of the four-person Capitol Police Board, but as an ex-officio member he is integral to it.

Asked whether the department has made progress on sharing information aligned with FOIA, Manger said he can’t make the decision on his own.

“It’s going to impact other folks, you know. But to the extent that we are being more open about putting information out to the public and to the media, I think people have seen that already,” Manger said.

On inspector general reports, Manger said, “They’re not our reports to make public.”

The Architect of the Capitol’s inspector general reports, unlike those of the Capitol Police, are publicly available. Asked if he would be open to his department IG reports becoming public if they don’t compromise sensitive information, Manger said, “Well, I would have no problem looking at it. ... I’d have to obviously hear from my general counsel about what their recommendations are.”

Bolton, the inspector general, has flagged a long list of issues with the department, from a lack of weapons certifications to the department spending $90,075 to train its specialized Containment Emergency Response Team with Northern Red Inc., a company that displays symbols associated with white supremacists.

“My priorities have been staffing, equipment, policy, training,” he said. “There’s still plenty of work to be done, but we’ve gotten a lot of these things back on track.”

Attrition higher than usual

Capitol Police officers are leaving the department in droves, which has forced remaining officers to work overtime and made some time off unavailable.

The department, authorized to have 2,000 sworn officers, has around 1,800. 

In 2021, Manger said the department has lost between 100 and 200 sworn officers to attrition.

“The attrition has been higher this year than in typical and previous years,” Manger said.

Manger said the department has long- and short-term staffing strategies, all the more important because of increased work responsibilities.

From Jan. 1 to March 11, there were 4,135 threats against lawmakers. Manger expects threats to exceed 9,000 by year’s end. That would exceed 8,613 in 2020, 6,955 in 2019, 5,206 in 2018 and 3,939 in 2017.

Manger said increased demands and attrition put the force in a bind with overtime.

“Cops are being held over. ... They’re being asked to work a lot of overtime and, in some cases, forced to work overtime,” Manger said. “And believe me, nobody likes that. There’s plenty of cops that like working overtime to get the little extra money, but you don’t want to ever be in a situation where you’re forcing people to stay over, because they do have a life outside this job and you’re impacting that.”

One way they are addressing it is increasing the number of recruit classes being trained at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers by running simultaneous academies.

“So every month, every couple of months, we’re graduating a class of recruits, so this is going to help us,” Manger said, adding that a class has about 25 people. 

Sean Gallagher, the Capitol Police department’s acting assistant chief for uniformed operations, and Chief J. Thomas Manger, right, conduct a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Sept. 17. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Confidence in team

Several top Capitol Police officials received no-confidence votes from the department union in response to Jan. 6, including Assistant Chief Yogananda Pittman, acting Assistant Chief Sean Gallagher and Deputy Chief Eric Waldow. 

A bipartisan Senate report found the Capitol Police’s intelligence units failed to communicate the threat information they had leading up to the insurrection. Pittman oversaw the Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division and continues in her role as assistant chief for Protective and Intelligence Operations. In February, Pittman told a House panel that although a communication breakdown kept her and other department leaders unaware of an FBI warning of “war” on Jan. 6, they would not have changed the security posture even if they had seen the message.

Waldow, who was in charge of the department’s Civil Disturbance Unit during the Capitol riot, did not provide direction on the radio but did engage in combat with the insurrectionists.

“So the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] and unions around the country will do no-confidence votes for a lot of different reasons, and that’s fine. But when I got here I believed I needed to do my own independent assessment of the kind of work that was being done here and assess my leadership team specifically,” Manger said. “I’ve been here now almost three months, and I can tell you that I believe I have a strong leadership team.”

He affirmed his belief in them, citing their work since the attack on the Capitol.

“I have confidence in them. Yes, absolutely,” he said. “And if at any point I don’t, I’ll deal with that. But again, I look at what they did over the past seven months before I got here, and I’ve also looked at what they’ve done as part of my team since I’ve been here, and I believe we have a strong team here.”

After this interview, Politico reported on a whistleblower complaint from a former high-ranking department official that was critical of Gallagher and Pittman. A spokesperson for Capitol Police said Manger’s comments stand.

Manger, who came out of retirement to take the Capitol Police job, plans to be a stabilizing force for the department, although he said he doesn’t plan to spend 15 years at the department like he did at his previous job.

“This will be my last job, but I’m going to be here for a few years.”