Forth Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald, Mayor Catherine Pugh’s pick to head the Baltimore Police Department, pledged in a press conference today that, if confirmed by the City Council, he will work to rebuild the community’s trust in the beleaguered agency.“I think we have a very great opportunity to mend some of the broken fences, so to speak, that have happened over the last few years,” he said.
Pointing to training programs in procedural justice and implicit bias that he has implemented in the past, as well as the federally mandated consent decree hashed out with the U.S. Department of Justice following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, Fitzgerald said officers can police the city more effectively by putting into practice methods that have worked in other cities.
“I think that we can overcome a lot of the perceptions and realities of the way we’ve done business in the past by making sure that we bring these things to bear, whether it’s procedural justice training, de-escalation–things that you’ve already engaged in and things that need to be reinforced.”
That also includes granular elements like regularly showing up to community meetings and being responsive to problems.
“We are only going to be successful as a police department and as a city with the help of the community members in the city,” he said.
But questions about transparency are already swirling around the nominee. According to a report in The Sun, members of the Baltimore City Council are asking Pugh’s office to release the results of a background investigation on Fitzgerald. City Solicitor Andre Davis said the report can be withheld from the council because it is a confidential personnel record.
The paper asked Davis for Fitzgerald’s resume, which was also deemed a personnel record. Davis asked for permission to release it, and Fitzgerald declined.
At this afternoon’s press briefing, Fitzgerald said there was plenty of information “out there about Joel Fitzgerald and how I do business,” and welcomed a full vetting by the council. City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Vice President Sharon Green Middleton, and councilmembers Robert Stokes and Brandon Scott are scheduled to depart for a fact-finding mission in Texas on Dec. 9.
“I think they’ll find that in each city they will get the type of responses that make them confident in the person the mayor selected for this position,” he said.
During Fitzgerald’s three years in Fort Worth, the department of roughly 1,700 sworn officers dealt with controversies and criticism directed specifically at Fitzgerald. That included a survey of 465 officers pointing to reduced morale on the police force under his leadership, a call from pastors 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. (The shooting occurred in June 2015; the officer was terminated two years later.)
A Philadelphia native, Fitzgerald also served as police chief in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for 21 months. Before that, he led the police department in Missouri City, Texas, a suburb of Houston. He was also offered the top cop job in Wichita, Kansas, in 2015, but went to Fort Worth instead.
Discussing her criteria for the selection, Pugh said she focused on finding someone who had run a department with 1,000 or more officers and focused on areas like Constitutional training and community engagement.
Fitzgerald didn’t seem to think his status as an outsider would make it harder for him to change the culture of a department that has been set back by multiple scandals and a recent surge in violent crime. At all his previous stops, he said, he’s left the department better than he found it and strengthened the relationship between police and the community.
“I’ve never believed that you can’t repair problems, you can’t solve problems, you can’t work together to make a community better,” he said.
He wouldn’t commit to shaking up the leadership ranks, saying he was still assessing the organization. There may be people in the department now who haven’t been given a chance to step into a leadership role, he said.
“I need a group of people–I know they’re here–that care about this agency, that care greatly about this city, and are willing to make the calls necessary to build the kind of good rapport and goodwill within the community necessary to be successful here in Baltimore.”
Ethan McLeod contributed to this report.