By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
The race to be Baltimore’s next mayor added another entrant this week, albeit a less conventional aspirant whose background is policing, not politics.
T.J Smith, the former spokesperson for the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), declared his candidacy Tuesday (Oct. 29), pledging to use his experience dealing with the city’s stubborn high crime as an asset.
“One of the biggest things we need to change in this city is being responsive to the victim’s side of crime,” he told the AFRO.
” I think we need a sense of urgency where we have to become more victim centered and in tune with what people are going through.”
Smith moved from the Anne Arundel County police department to take over communications for the BPD when Kevin Davis became commissioner in 2015. Prior to working in Baltimore, Smith served as a lieutenant for the Anne Arundel County Police Department where he also headed the communications department.
Recently, he was an aide to Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski, Jr.
Smith was a high-profile spokesman, often standing at the podium with Davis during press conferences; it’s a perspective he says gave him a more nuanced understanding of the city’s struggle with violence that the current leadership lacks.
“People in our city are suffering from trauma,” he said. “We need to pay attention to that.”
Smith says his priorities will be reentry programs for prisoners, ensuring equity in development and improving the city’s fractured public transportation system. But he also says he wants to make city government more responsive to the basic needs of residents.
“We need to fix the potholes in the streets and make sure the trash is picked-up as well,” he said.
But, along with the visibility Smith garnered in his BPD post, he was also the face of a department, which experienced a plethora of high-profile scandals.
Among the scandals the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF), a group of roughly eight officers who robbed residents, stole overtime pay, and dealt drugs. Asked if his role in defending an organization that was sometimes at odds with the public trust would affect his candidacy, Smith was confident his personal relationship with the community was strong enough to overcome the BPD’s tainted reputation.
“I think a lot of people trusted me,” said Smith. “Have you ever worked with someone who had done something wrong?”
Another controversial case, which occurred during Smith’s tenure was the death of Detective Sean Suiter.
Suiter was shot in the head with his own gun in a West Baltimore alley in November of 2017. A week after he died, Davis revealed Suiter was scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury for his alleged role in a robbery involving several members of the GTTF. An Independent Review Board tasked by the BPD to investigate Suiter’s death concluded he committed suicide. But Smith remains agnostic about that conclusion.
“I don’t think anyone knows definitively what happened,” he said.
Smith’s entry into the mayor’s race adds to an already crowded field of candidates.
Over the weekend, current mayor Jack Young announced he was running. Council President Brandon Scott declared his candidacy last month. Former prosecutor and candidate for Baltimore State’s Attorney, Thiru Vignarajah is also running.
But, despite a slate of seasoned candidates, Smith says his lack of experience in elected office gives him an edge.
“I’m fortunate that I’ve had various perspectives working at high levels of government,” Smith said.