Next stop in this whole prolonged police commissioner appointment process: Fort Worth, Texas.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young is leading a group of council members—also including Vice President Sharon Green Middleton, Executive Appointments Committee Chair Robert Stokes and Public Safety Committee Chair Brandon Scott—to Fort Worth to interview “a cross-section of people who have interacted with the candidate, Mr. Joel Fitzgerald.”
“Our questions will be open-ended. We want to understand Mr. Fitzgerald’s time in Fort Worth and allow for honest dialogue,” Young said in a statement Monday.
That dialogue will almost surely cover past controversies involving Fitzgerald, Mayor Catherine Pugh’s newly announced (and previously unannounced) pick for Baltimore City police commissioner. Soon after his name came to light in the search process last month, locals raised questions about the longtime cop’s three-year tenure in Fort Worth.
Fitzgerald has faced criticism back in Texas, including from a survey that pointed to reduced morale on the police force under his leadership, from pastors who called for him to resign following a scandal involving body camera footage of a controversial arrest, and a case of him being slow to fire an officer who shot an unarmed black man.
Pugh has touted Fitzgerald, a Philadelphia native who also previously served as police chief in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Missouri City, Texas, for his reputation of having a “hands-on approach, his ability to listen and establish effective, trusted partnerships with community leaders, residents and essential stakeholders who are also working to bring about positive and sustainable change.”
One former neighborhood watch group leader in Allentown, where Fitzgerald worked for 21 months, told The Sun this weekend that BPD’s incoming top cop was dependable: “You could call him anytime and he would get back to you.”
But others raised red flags, including a retired Fort Worth police sergeant—”you couldn’t find a more unqualified person to move Baltimore police forward under the circumstances that currently exist,” he said—and a pastor who said Fitzgerald “has an unwillingness to dismiss even rogue officers.”
During the upcoming trip, which begins Sunday, Dec. 9, Young, Middleton, Stokes and Scott will meet with clergy, citizen advocates, business leaders, police officials, elected officials and civil rights attorneys, Young said in his statement. That group will include contacts recommended by the ACLU of Maryland, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and BUILD Baltimore.
“My colleagues and I look forward to a robust confirmation process that will be transparent and thorough,” Young said.
Fitzgerald will still need to be confirmed by the full Baltimore City Council. Young said that will come in the new year. The Sun and WBAL-TV are reporting there will be two days of confirmation hearings the week of Jan. 7, and a final vote later that month.