J. Thomas Manger said the brutal attack on Jan. 6 persuaded him to come out of retirement to try to help get the Capitol Police department “where it needs to be.”
July 23, 2021Updated 8:24 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON — J. Thomas Manger, a veteran police chief of departments in the Greater Washington, D.C., region, began work on Friday as chief of the United States Capitol Police, taking over a nearly 2,000-member force that is in crisis in the wake of the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.
Chief Manger came out of retirement to take on the position after more than four decades in policing, most recently as chief of police in Montgomery County, Md., where he served for 15 years. Before that, he led the Fairfax County, Va., police.
On his first day on the job at the Capitol, Mr. Manger spoke with The New York Times about the state of the nearly two-century-old agency and his plans to improve security after the largest attack on the building since the War of 1812.
This interview had been edited for length and clarity.
This is a big task. You’re taking over the Capitol Police at a time when the agency is under tremendous stress. More than 70 officers have retired or resigned since the violence of Jan. 6 during which dozens of officers suffered very serious injuries. Pundits are criticizing the agency constantly, and there are multiple investigations into the force’s shortcomings. Why do you want this job?
It was mostly watching what happened here on Jan. 6. You know, I’ve been a police chief in the Washington D.C. area for over 20 years. When I saw what occurred, it really motivated me to get back to what I’ve done my whole career. For the first time since I retired from my last chief job, in 2019, I wanted to get back into the profession, not just to get back to being police chief, but to get back to being police chief here in the U.S. Capitol — to take this great department and try to help get it to where it needs to be.
But you didn’t initially apply for the opening, correct? You were recruited.
I eventually applied. Recruiters reached out to me and asked me if I was interested. The more I thought about it, I thought I really could use my experience to help this department. I can’t stress this enough: This is a great police department. It’s been a great police department, and I know that for a fact. But Jan. 6 demonstrated that there were some equipment and training and staffing issues that need to be worked on.
I was in the building on Jan. 6, so I know what a terrible day it was for police officers, lawmakers and staff. Almost everyone I talk to has really raw emotions from that day. Where were you were the attack happened, and what was going through your mind?
I was at home. I was riveted to the TV. It impacted me very deeply and very emotionally. Watching all those cops get hurt, and watching these folks who had no care or consideration for our country. The callous disregard, the way they attacked these cops — that impacted me significantly. I felt a combination of sadness and anger. But also, it made me think that I maybe had some experience and some ability that might be able to help.
There have been several reports by the Capitol Police inspector general, retired Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré and Senate committees that present a pretty damning portrait of the agency’s preparations and response to the Jan. 6 attack on multiple levels. Officers didn’t have much-needed riot gear. Serious threats of violence from Trump supporters were ignored or discounted. Required training in crowd control hadn’t been done. How do you rebuild this force so a similar attack doesn’t happen again? What is the first area you want to tackle?
I’m very grateful that this police department did not wait around for a new chief to be hired to start working on those recommendations. [Acting] Chief [Yogananda D.] Pittman and the leadership in this department, they saw the recommendations that came out of General Honoré’s report and the inspector general’s report and they’ve already put a lot of things in process to implement those recommendations. There are dozens and dozens of recommendations — maybe close to 100 when you count all of the reports that have been done. You can put them in certain categories: training, staffing, policy, equipment. You can work on many of them simultaneously.
Look, it’s not like we were lacking for courage and dedication. These men and women have that, and displayed that on Jan. 6. We’ve got plenty of that. We just need to make sure that those men and women have the support and the equipment and the training that the department needs to provide for them, and they’ll get the job done.
You’ve led traditional police departments before, in the suburban counties of Montgomery and Fairfax, that investigate robberies and make traffic stops and respond to 911 calls, all the things traditional police departments do. But the Capitol Police are unique. How do you see the agency transforming under your tenure?
You’re exactly right. Our mission is unique. Our responsibilities are different than a traditional police department in a city or town. But the fact of the matter is we are serving the public. Our overall job is to keep people safe. Dealing with protests and dignitary protection — I actually had some of those responsibilities on a smaller scale in previous jobs. I do understand what how this job is different, but there are some things that are exactly the same. You’ve got nearly 2,000 men and women who come to work every day and have the responsibility to keep a community safe. Making sure you hire the right people, giving folks the training they need, making sure that you’re holding folks accountable — those are universal concepts, and that’s a big part of a police chief’s job. In that regard, this is not altogether different than some of the responsibilities that I’ve had in the past.
But the things that do make this unique — the dignitary protection aspects of it — we do need to look at what we’re doing and ask: Do we need to improve it? Do we actually need more people to do it correctly? So, we’re not only going to look at the recommendations that come out of the inspector general’s report, but I’m also listening to the members of Congress and their staffs. What do they want? What are their expectations? We have a lot of good information to get us started, but any police department in this country can improve by looking at itself from the inside out.
For us, Jan. 6 has given us an opportunity for us to be a better police department.
Will Acting Chief Pittman be staying on the job, and, if so, what role will she have?
Chief Pittman has done an amazing job since Jan. 6. She is the one who has really led the way to getting things started on some of the improvements that need to be made. And I’m really grateful for the good work she’s done over the past six months. If I had my way, she will continue to be part of my leadership team. I think she has so many great qualities.
Do you have any reservations about taking this position?
Look, I was very happy. I had a 42-year career. When I retired, it was kind of a relief to not have a 24/7 responsibility, which I had for most of my career. So, the only reservation I had was: Do I really want to get back and do this? And the answer to that question is yes, I do. I can tell you, from my first day here, I know I’ve made the right decision. I couldn’t be more proud of the men and women of this police department.