By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Four months after she was ousted as leader of the Portsmouth Police Department, Tonya Chapman is the lone nominee to be the top cop in Montgomery County, Maryland.
After a ringing endorsement by Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich the former Portsmouth Police Chief, is now the lone nominee for the job as of late July.
Two contenders for the job, including the current interim, have withdrawn from consideration.
When the process to find a new chief was launched in February, at one time over 20 candidates were seeking the position.
Now that she has been vetted by the council, it will make its selection in September after returning from this month’s recess and barring any issues.
If Chapman is chosen, she will head Maryland’s largest county police department. It has over 1300 officers, compared to Portsmouth’s which had 255.
White officers are the majority, with 806 white males and 173 white females. There are 114 Black males and 36 Black females. There is a total of 120 Hispanic males and females.
In February of 2016, Chapman made history when she became the first African-American woman appointed to lead Portsmouth’s Police Department. Her tenure lasted only three years.
In March, Chapman resigned as police chief in Portsmouth, allegedly after trying to reform the department amid claims of systemic racism and internal strife from officers challenging her leadership.
A month after she exited, Portsmouth’s City Manager, Dr. Lydia Pettis Patton, also a Black woman, released a brief statement on the matter, listing strides Chapman had made in improving public safety, community relations and the diversification of the police force. But Pettis Patton added, “Her departure is an employment issue based solely on concerns with the leadership of the department.”
“There was a management difference and people leave all the time for management differences,” Elrich recently said of Chapman on a local radio program in Northern Virginia. “It’s kind of unfortunate for her that people have focused on this, rather than looking at a career in other places where — if you talk to anybody in any other places where she’s been — they say good things about her.”
Elrich told local media outlets he was not aware of some of the issues the department had under Chapman’s leadership in Portsmouth. He also said he does not think that her abrupt departure had anything to do with the controversy.
“They (the Portsmouth Police Department) said they separated from her because of leadership issues, not because of the job she does,” he said.
If Chapman is chosen, she will have to address several issues troubling the department.
Last year, in Silver Springs, an officer-involved fatal shooting of a man outraged residents. Also, Chapman will have to deal with a video of a white officer using a racial slur in an encounter with Black men in May, and recently, an officer was accused of excessive force in making an arrest.
Chapman began her law enforcement career in the Arlington County Police Department in 1989; by the time she left in 2011, she was a captain. She served as the deputy chief of police in Richmond for about three years. She then served as deputy secretary of public safety and homeland security of Virginia for a couple of years before she took charge of the Portsmouth force.
This is the first time in 15 years, the post has had to be filled, according to multiple people familiar with the selection process.
Elrich has called for a focus on accountability at the police department, as have county council members.
The council this week held a public hearing on efforts to create a 15-member Policing Advisory Commission that would advise the council on best policing practices.
Chapman was replaced by Portsmouth’s assistant chief, Angela Greene, also a Black woman.