Montgomery County police

Montgomery County Police Chief Says Morale Among Officers Is at Lowest He's Seen

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Montgomery County’s police chief says morale on the force is at the lowest he’s ever seen it in his career with the department.

According to insiders, that's leading more officers to turn in their badge and gun and resign or retire.

“What I call the greatest leadership challenge that I have is that I maintain the morale of the officers and make sure I kind of move the morale to a higher level than where it is today,” Chief Marcus Jones said.

In the past three months, unexpected resignations are up 18%, Jones said.

While there are several factors -- including COVID-19 -- he said anti-police sentiment and some police reforms play a role.

“I think I would just be naïve to think that my officers aren’t somewhat distraught that they would want to think about doing something else or have another career,” Jones said.

Filling those empty ranks is getting tougher, too. Last January, there were 14 in the police recruit class. This coming January, he’s hoping for 30. Applications used to be in the thousands.

“We’re not seeing those numbers now,” Jones said. “In fact, this recent class we’re basically trying to put through now, we’re below 400. For me, that’s disturbing.”

Maryland Fraternal Order of Police Vice President William Milam says state-imposed police reforms have many officers worried they could end up being charged with a crime.

“I think officers, now, have to think about the political ramifications of their every move,” he said. “They have to worry about being on the local news at night. They have to worry about being prosecuted.”

County Executive Marc Elrich is pushing a new way of policing that makes officers more like guardians instead of warriors.

“I think the changes that are being made are the right changes, but it’s understandable that it’s hard to be a great hero one year and be doing something terrible the next year,” he said. “Psychologically, that’s not a good place to be.”

Elrich and other elected leaders like Councilman Will Jawando support more training and increased pay for officers.

“I think the current police officers, many of them are open to doing things differently,” Jawando said. “I’ve spoken to many of them. I just think transition is hard, and we need to give them clear guidance, we need to pay them better and we need to hold them accountable.”

Jones said he’s addressing morale by having conversations with officers, being visible and letting them know they have support.

The chief also said he’s optimistic about the future of policing and the department can meet the challenges and keep the community safe.

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