In 2018, former Mayor Catherine Pugh began a nationwide search for a Baltimore Police Commissioner following Darryl Desousa’s indictment for tax fraud. The search led to Pugh selecting Chief Joel Fitzgerald, formerly of the Ft. Worth Police Department.
After a tumultuous confirmation process, Mr. Fitzgerald rescinded his application.
Shortly after Chief Fitzgerald’s rescission, Pugh selected Michael Harrison, former superintendent of New Orleans Police Department. Michael Harrison came highly recommended by the Police Executive Research Foundation (PERF). Of the available nationwide candidates, Harrison was touted as the premier choice due to his reputation of being a reformer and change agent. Harrison, however, advised Pugh and others he was dedicated to the progression of New Orleans PD and declined the offer on several occasions. After much persuasion from former Mayor Pugh, he accepted the position. It has been stated that New Orleans did not reform the way we once thought it had. Under Harrison’s tenure in New Orleans, overall violent crime spiked, but homicides declined.
Upon Harrison’s arrival in January 2019, his initial assessment was that BPD’s rank structure was extremely top heavy. He opined the span of control was inequitable for specific ranks, thus, those positions would be evaluated.
At the onset of Harrison’s arrival to Baltimore, BPD was comprised of the following executive commanders:
Deputy Police Commissioner Andre Bonaparte
Colonel Robert Smith
Colonel Byron Conaway
Colonel Richard Worley
Colonel Melvin Russell
Inspector Edward Jackson
Lt. Colonel Kevin Jones
Lt. Colonel Sheree Briscoe
Lt. Colonel Dion Hatchett
Lt. Colonel Donald Bauer
Lt. Colonel Latanya Lewis
Lt. Colonel Margaret Barrilaro
Lt. Colonel Robert Jackson
Harrison had no real basis, tenure alone, to measure the BPD leadership adequacies. With the assistance of PERF Associate, Sheryl Goldstein, Michael Harrison proceeded to reshape the organization. Goldstein, current deputy director of operations at City Hall, assisted Harrison’s evaluation in analyzing the department’s structure. Goldstein, previously held posts with PERF, Vice President of the Abell Foundation, Director of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice, under Mayors Sheila Dixon and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and worked closely with former Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.
Her experience in working with previous administrations hindered her from having an unbiased approach to her recommendation.
Harrison’s reassessment of BPD’s rank structure included members of his command staff; majors, captains, directors and chiefs.
Harrison vehemently expressed to the media, the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office and the City Council that his assessment would “appropriately and effectively conduct the reorganization that makes the department effective.” Goldstein’s assessment was not made public.
Harrison proffered ultimatums of demotion or retirement to Bonaparte, Smith, Russell; all retired. Edward Jackson’s position was abolished, which culminated the racially biased targeting of African-American male commanders. Hatchett and Jackson were both demoted, Hatchett to a major, Jackson to a lieutenant. The Police Recruitment and Education and Training Section was headed by Major Brian Hance and Captain Sean Brown.
Hance was making forward progress with increasing recruitment numbers, however, reported suspected fraudulent activities committed by his predecessor James Handley.
Hance was consequently replaced by Handley amid the investigation and demoted from major to lieutenant. Sean Brown, former acting director of education and training, was passed over for a promotion, bestowed upon Martin Bartness who was elevated to the rank of major. Bartness was twice demoted, once at his request as a result of being a commander and the second time by Daryl Desousa.
Darryl Murphy was the executive officer, captain of the Northeast District and was demoted to the rank of lieutenant for alleged department violations. Jeffrey Shorter, former commanding officer of the Collaboration Division, was demoted and reassigned to the Northern District as captain. Lastly, Byron Conaway, former Chief of the Criminal Investigation Division, was demoted from Colonel to Major. In contrast to these firings, demotions and reassignments, Lieutenant Michael Poole was suspended for leaking promotional examination answers to several members of the police department prior to the tests.
Colonel Richard Worley was ordered to travel to Chicago, IL to create new material. Poole’s case was eventually changed to that of minor infractions and handled internally.
James Handley was accused of EEO violations and was once again removed from Recruitment to Records Management.
Michael Harrison’s restructuring plan consisted of replacing 11 African American male Commanders with six male Caucasians who were all promoted to Executive Command positions; Deputy Commissioners Danny Murphy, Gillis, Michael Sullivan and Brian Nadeau, Lt. Colonel John Herzog and Major Martin Bartness. In addition to those selections there were several other Command promotions given to Caucasians; Chiefs Shannon Sullivan, Shallah Graham, Captains Derek Loeffler, Brian Hopkins, Andrew Wiman, Jason Callaghan and Jessica Leitch.
During Harrison’s abbreviated 11 month tenure, he has not promoted any male of color, consistent with the overt, blatant racial disparities and dismantling of the African American male commander which preceded the Harrison era. Prior to Harrison’s arrival Sgt. Louis Hopson filed and successfully won a federal lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department for race-biases in June 2009.
That lawsuit highlighted institutional racial discrimination and disparities. Similarly, these same unequal practices must desist. Michael Harrison has lived up to his notion of bringing reform to the Baltimore Police Department.
The transformation came in the shape of targeting African American male commanders via terminations, demotions, reassignment and/or passing over for promotions. Just as the streets of Baltimore have witnessed the African American male demise from external violence, the African-American male Commanders in BPD are dying internally. Violence must come to an end and those responsible must be held accountable; the survival of Baltimore depends on it. Sadly, City Hall leadership is aware of the flagrant abuse of men of color within the blue walls of the Baltimore Police Department and yet instead turn a blind eye to the reprehensible practices. Do the lives of African American male commanders matter? Here in Baltimore, the answer is a resounding no.
To this end, the question remains, who is the face behind the Baltimore City Police Department- Michael Harrison or PERF?
The views represent the opinions of some members of the Baltimore Police Department’s command staff.
The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO.Send letters to The Afro-American • 1531 S. Edgewood St. Baltimore, MD 21227 or fax to 1-877-570-9297 or e-mail to [email protected]