The new chief of the U.S. Capitol Police on Friday defended the beleaguered agency, saying that the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection should not define the department and that necessary changes to its procedures have been made in the months since.
"I know how good this U.S. Capitol Police Department is. I know the kind of work that these men and women have done over the years," Tom Manger, who has four decades of experience in law enforcement and who started in his new role on Friday, said in an interview with NPR.
"It has been frustrating for me, as well as the men and women in this department, that people have, I guess, have defined them by one day," he continued. "It's not fair, and it's certainly not accurate. This is a great police department. And yes, Jan. 6 demonstrated that there were some things that needed to be done that would make this police department better, and those recommendations have been taken to heart."
The force has faced some withering criticisms for its response to the deadly Capitol melee, when riotous supporters of Donald Trump, egged on by the then-president himself, descended on the complex. They were seeking to delay or halt the certification of President Biden's victory in the 2020 White House race.
Numerous officers were injured in the riot, and two who responded to the attack have since died by suicide. Other police officers' restrained, if at times inviting, response to the rioters has been the subject of public debate and has come under scrutiny of Congress.
Agency leadership has also come under fire from its own officers with the department union issuing an overwhelming no-confidence vote for the force's top leaders.
The previous chief, Steven Sund, resigned shortly after the insurrection. Manger replaces Yogananda Pittman, who has been the department's acting chief.
"All of us want to make sure that when, you know, if we're in a crisis that folks have the ability to react to that crisis, to get the help that they need as quickly as possible," Manger said. "So that discussion is ongoing. And I do think that everybody recognizes that we need to be able to react more quickly when things really go bad.
"We are making improvements where we need to. But the one thing that's consistent is the quality of the men and women who wear this uniform and do this job."
Manger aims to boost transparency for the department, along with its resources and officer morale. He also faces additional challenges, including increasing lawmaker security and trying to tackle a threat of running out of money next month.
Manger came out of retirement to helm the Capitol department. He previously led the forces in Fairfax and Montgomery counties, just outside of Washington, D.C.
The Capitol role is his first job leading a federal police agency. He says that while it's not like his previous gigs as a chief where he juggled murder and robbery concerns, there's one similar mission.
"I may not have to be dealing with those kinds of issues, but I'll tell you, what's the same is we're serving the public, we're trying to keep the public safe, and making sure that you have a police department that is out there, well-intended, in terms of their service to the public. That is a universal concept."
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
U.S. Capitol Police are facing intense criticism after officers were overrun by rioters in the deadly January 6 attack. The agency is now at one of its most challenging moments in its history, facing low officer morale, growing resignations and simply running out of money. Now, they have a new leader vowing to revamp the department. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales talked to the new chief on his first day on the job.
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: The horrifying scenes from the January 6 attack on the Capitol paralyzed many who watched. But retired Police Chief Tom Manger had a different reaction that day.
THOMAS MANGER: It was the first time since I had been retired that I wished that I was not retired.
GRISALES: Manger ran two of the biggest departments in the D.C. metropolitan area in a career that spanned more than 40 years. In 2019, he walked away as Montgomery County police chief in Maryland, thinking he was done. But the attack forced Manger to rethink those plans after the department came under fire after the siege.
MANGER: People have defined them by one day. And it's not fair, and it's certainly not accurate. This is a great police department.
GRISALES: Now, Manger is spreading the word that he's helping turn a new chapter for Capitol Police.
MANGER: My message to them is, look, we're going to earn that confidence back.
GRISALES: Manger took the reins from acting police chief Yogananda Pittman. She took over after former police chief Steven Sund resigned within hours after the attack. Rank-and-file officers gave leaders a vote of no confidence. The agency has a reputation for not talking to the public, but Manger says that's going to change.
MANGER: I believe in transparency. I believe in accountability. I believe that the public has a right to know what we do and why we do things. And they have the right to ask questions about how their police department does their job.
GRISALES: He says he won't lose sleep over Republicans who reject the events of January 6, and his focus is on improving officer morale, getting them the resources they need and protecting lawmakers regardless of their party.
MANGER: Ultimately, it's our responsibility to ensure that the members of Congress are safe.
GRISALES: And Manger says that also means letting the public know what Capitol Police are capable of in new hands. And he thinks they got a preview on January 6.
MANGER: These men and women are dedicated professionals who demonstrated amazing courage on January 6.
GRISALES: Manger's to-do list is long and fraught with political peril at a time when Democrats and Republicans cannot even agree on their own security.
Claudia Grisales, NPR News, Washington.
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