By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, [email protected]
‘Baltimore is brutal.’
That was the succinct, cogent analysis of the state of our city by one of my media colleagues, following the official introduction of Ft. Worth, Texas Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald by Mayor Catherine Pugh.
After the press conference at City Hall on Nov. 26, my fellow journalist (who I won’t identify because we were speaking off the record) and I pondered the fact that Fitzgerald is still officially Ft. Worth’s chief, even as he begins the confirmation process to become Baltimore’s fifth police commissioner since the Uprising of 2015. We quickly concluded there hasn’t been a candidate to be the top cop in Baltimore, while still being employed as chief of a police department of another city.
But, Fitzgerald may be clinging to his job in Ft. Worth for good reason. The confirmation process by the Baltimore City Council for Fitzgerald, which historically has been more of a formality in most cases, may be significantly more arduous according to the people I’ve spoken to.
The reality is Pugh is bringing Fitzgerald forward to take over perhaps the most corrupt big city police department in America, in a city still struggling with epic violence. Maybe for those reasons above others Fitzgerald seemed somewhat trepidatious during his introductory press conference.
I asked him why he thought an outsider would be best suited to engage in the prodigious task of righting the wayward, hulking vessel that is the Baltimore Police Department.
“I can tell you that as someone who’s been an outsider at other departments, I think that I made tremendous strides in making sure community and police relationships are strengthened,” Fitzgerald said. “And I’ve always believed that you can’t repair problems, that you can’t solve problems if you can’t work together to make the community better.”
Another reporter asked Fitzgerald a question about his approach to the BPD’s current command staff, a group of entrenched Baltimore police veterans that have been the target of BPD detractors, as well as some within the department.
“I’m not going to box myself in…the violent crime initiative is a very good program that’s going on here,” Fitzgerald said, with an astute nod to Mayor Pugh’s signature crime fighting strategy. “I have to again access the people that we have in the organization. There are probably folks that are in the organization that probably haven’t had the opportunity to lead, or to demonstrate leadership so to speak,” he added. “I think one of the first courses of action… when confirmed, is getting…a real sense in the organization, what kind of intellectual capital we have in the organization and who are going to be the people to move this department forward. So, I certainly would not say that I wouldn’t consider bringing people in.”
Fitzgerald may be the man on the hot seat, but to be clear the stakes are incredibly high for Pugh. I think the mayor had her man to lead the department when she tapped long-time BPD veteran Darryl De Sousa, after she fired Kevin Davis in January. But, it seems clear insidious police department politics, with an assist from the IRS, cut De Sousa’s reign short after a little more than 60 days in the chair.
I asked Mayor Pugh what was it about Fitzgerald that ultimately caused her to chose him.
“We….wanted someone who had done Constitutional training, had some understanding of community engagement,” Pugh said. “And I remember in conversations with Commissioner Fitzgerald talking about how he had engaged the community kind of training and the training facilities that they (Ft. Worth) have. And as you know we really need to upgrade ours…So, I believe that training is important and I think that what I’ve seen from Commissioner Fitzgerald, his approach to policing, his understanding and having worked in a real urban city like Philadelphia, having worked in a large environment like Texas…was certainly a thumbs up for me.”
To say that Fitzgerald’s task is Herculean (if he actually makes it to the chair) is a titanic understatement, because the truth is, “Baltimore is brutal.”
Sean Yoes is the AFRO Baltimore editor and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.