By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
Tensions over the thus-far secretive process for selecting a new police commissioner for the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) boiled over recently.
The controversy was ignited after a random tweet was posted Oct. 18 alleging current Ft. Worth Texas Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald had accepted the job of top cop in Baltimore.
Asked to comment on the tweet, Ft. Worth Mayor Betsy Price through a spokesman said, “I guess it appears he is leaving per a tweet she was asked to respond to.”
Chief Joel Fitzgerald of the Fort Worth, Texas Police Department, had been widely rumored to be the Baltimore Police Department’s next commissioner. Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh recently denied Fitzgerald would be Baltimore’s next top cop. (Courtesy Photo/Twitter)
Fitzgerald is a veteran cop who has served as Chief for Fort Worth since 2015. Prior to his tenure at Ft. Worth, he was chief of the Allentown, Pa. police department and the police department of Missouri City, Texas.
He also worked for the Philadelphia Police Department for 19 years.
The purported hiring of Fitzgerald was quickly denied by Mayor Catherine Pugh.
But, the timing of the announcement and the reluctance of the administration to release any information about a list of front runners only seemed to heighten tensions among council members who are already frustrated by a department they view as opaque at best.
“I asked to know who applied and did not receive a response,” Councilman Brandon Scott, chair of the Public Safety Committee told the AFRO.
“I think that I would prefer there would be more transparency in the process.”
The only real clue thus far regarding Pugh’s mindset is in an interview with Jayne Miller of WBAL-TV in which she expressed a preference for outsiders.
“The folks who have bubbled up to the top are from the outside,” Pugh told Miller.
The mayor’s spokesman James Bentley said the selection process has remained confidential due to applicants’ concerns that any publicity could jeopardize their current jobs.
“We have promised applicants confidentiality, as many currently hold positions and do not want to jeopardize their employment and we intend to keep that promise. The mayor is working as expeditiously and thoroughly as possible to come to a decision,” Bentley said.
But, Scott said given the lack of trust between the public and the department, keeping residents apprised of the top candidates could be beneficial.
“I think there should be a separate board that goes through the process of vetting it down to the top three,” Scott said.
The selection of the new top cop is being closely watched.
The ongoing series of scandals that has engulfed the agency has frequently raised questions about the department’s current command staff. Recently the Baltimore Police Department said seven additional officers were being investigated internally for ties to the notorious Gun Trace Task Force, a specialized unit of eight officers who pleaded guilty to robbing residents, dealing drugs and stealing overtime.
Meanwhile, the city continues to battle with recently rising homicide numbers amid concerns the department is chronically short-handed.
Recently, federal judge James K. Bredar, who is overseeing the federal consent decree between the justice department and the city criticized the department for lack of a permanent commissioner.
Since the departure of former Commissioner Anthony Batts in 2015, a succession of three other men have served as the city’s top cop.
In January of 2018 Kevin Davis was fired by Pugh after serving two years. Five months later his successor Darryl De Sousa resigned after he was indicted for failing to file federal tax returns. Then Deputy Commissioner Gary Tuggle took over, but has since said publicly he is not interested in a permanent appointment.
The instability at the top of the city’s most expansive agency is what Scott says needs to end for the BPD to effectively fight crime.
“I am worried about instability at the top,” Scott said. “We need to have leadership in place to do things.”