Image still from WBAL-TV’s Facebook Live.
Image still from WBAL-TV’s Facebook Live.

To start the new year, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young released transcripts from a council delegation’s interviews with Fort Worth lawmakers, police brass and community members on Joel Fitzgerald, the Texas city’s police chief who now seeks to lead the police department in Baltimore.

The 216-page report paints two very different pictures of Fitzgerald, with lawmakers and community leaders lauding him for his reform efforts and implementation of community policing, and other pastors and activists countering that it’s all hype and the city’s African-American residents still experience bias from the department.

Vance Keyes, a former captain who was demoted after allegedly leaking information about a high-profile arrest of an African-American woman and her daughters, and later sued the department, called Fitzgerald a “master manipulator.”

“If you talk about community initiatives and relationships you have to have trust; there is no trust between the police department and our citizens,” Keyes told the Baltimore delegation, comprised of Young, Vice Council President Sharon Green Middleton, Councilman Robert Stokes and Councilman Brandon Scott.

In a reference to Fitzgerald’s resume, a subject of public debate in Baltimore after Fitzgerald, through City Solicitor Andre Davis, refused a request from The Sun to release it only to have the council make it public, Dr. Michael Bell, a pastor at Greater St. Stephen First Church, said the accomplishments don’t match reality.

“The bottom line is we read his resume, the one that he presented; we’re well aware of what he said. Much of what he placed on his resume anything regarding community policing, he has not implemented it,” Bell said.

Following the aforementioned 2016 arrest, in which a white officer, William Martin, wrestled an African-American woman, Jacqueline Craig, to the ground even though she had been the one to call police over a dispute, Bell said Fitzgerald met with a group of local religious leaders and seemed more concerned about finding whoever leaked video of the incident and Martin’s personnel file.

“[T]he only passion that we’ve heard from Fitzgerald is that he was going to find out who released that information and they’re going to be dealt with severely,” he said. “That’s the only passion I’ve heard from the man.”

For her part, Craig told the Baltimore council members that Fitzgerald is “a bag of garbage.”

But some city officials said Fitzgerald had helped relations between community and police, with two Fort Worth council members noting he was able to weather the incident with Craig and implement changes. Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray said that following the arrest, “community policing has been one of the foundations of our city.”

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price praised Fitzgerald’s handling of the situation, as well as his ability to lead a large police force in a major city, his dealings with the combative Police Officers Association and his work on the Race and Culture Task Force, a group that suggested implementing a civilian review board for police misconduct incidents.

“There were more challenges than he was expecting at the time,” Fort Worth’s mayor said. “It’s not a walk in the park in cities nowadays. But Joel has done a good job.”

A different group of religious and community leaders also gave Fitzgerald high marks for his efforts to bring implicit bias training and de-escalation to Forth Worth.

“It’s turned our department around as far as community relations, as far as the way we
deal with people,” said Roy Hudson, former president of the Fort Worth Black Law Enforcement Association. “I think that as a whole we’re light years ahead of where we were especially in the small amount of time that he’s been here.”

Estella Williams, of the Fort Worth NAACP, told Baltimore council members the department under Fitzgerald was more responsive to community problems like drug dealing, and that officers were trying to form meaningful relationships with young people to steer them away from trouble.

In addition to the training sessions on de-escalation and implicit bias, many of Fitzgerald’s supporters pointed to his returning the department to the beat system as a positive development that helped community relations.

The Baltimore City Council is scheduled to hold two hearings on Fitzgerald’s nomination in the coming weeks. The first, on Jan. 5, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., allows members of the public to offer testimony to the Executive Appointments Committee. Fitzgerald will not be present.

“That day is reserved for members of the public to share their thoughts directly with the City Council,” Young’s office wrote in a Dec. 27 announcement. “We want to hear from you in advance of our vote on the nominee. Your role is critical and will come on the heels of the Council holding a second public hearing to question Dr. Fitzgerald.”

On Jan. 7, at 5 p.m., the committee will question Fitzgerald. No questions from the public will be allowed.

The full council has until Jan. 28 to hold a final vote.

Not long after the transcripts were released from Young’s office on Tuesday, 3rd District Councilman Ryan Dorsey, an outspoken critic of the BPD and the only legislator to vote against Darryl De Sousa, the last candidate to face a vote, went on Twitter to say Fitzgerald would provide more of the same for the beleaguered police department.

Joel Fitzgerald is a corner-clearing, broken windows devotee. It’s what he knows and believes in.

— Ryan Dorsey (@ElectRyanDorsey) January 2, 2019

Dorsey went on to say that, in a meeting with his staff, Fitzgerald could not define “success” for the police department or offer a timeline for when it would be achieved.

“He laughed, shrugged, and told me to google him,” Dorsey wrote.

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Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...