BALTIMORE — As newly enacted Police Commissioner Michael Harrison begins his grand endeavor with the Baltimore Police Department, his focus is both on practical, tangible changes to the force, as well as large scale cultural shifts for both his officers and their constituents.
"That is a colossal task," Harrison said, "but it's what I'm here to do."
In his first sit-down interview with WMAR-2 News’ Brian Kuebler, Harrison outlined priorities of implementing better training, upgrading and advancing technology, addressing concerns of the community and the rank-and-file, tackling the mandates of the consent decree, and producing a culture of accountability that the city can believe in.
“We want to be able to say that we self corrected, and it’s all about leadership, and owning it and taking it on our own shoulders,” Harrison said when discussing the changes needed in the department, particularly those prompted by the consent decree. “Man, wouldn’t it be great if our leaders could accept this and embrace this and at the end of the day say we turned our department around, and that the country recognizes the type of talent that we have and the cultural shift that we made because we owned it and we feel good about it.”
Though he has been in the city for a few months now, having recently settled into a new home in the Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood, Harrison is still evaluating much of the department. Much like he did while traveling through a series of community meetings and hearing the concerns of city residents, he is engaging with rank-and-file officers daily to offer them a chance to voice their thoughts on the city and the force they are a part of. What seems a clear starting point for the new commissioner is tackling the BPD’s antiquated technology gap, pushing the agency from paper systems to digital ones.
“I think the officers need a lot of tools,” Harrison said. “There is a big technology deficiency, where technology is severely lacking, and it was promised to me that it would be a resource we would have, and it would be improved. The mayor made a commitment to giving us the resources for the officers to be productive and successful in being police officers here, so we can transform our department.”
.@BaltimorePolice Commissioner Michael Harrison also says he just notified command staff that he will be interviewing executive level employees. He says he needs specific talent to move the department forward. @WMAR2News #Baltimore pic.twitter.com/rsXjIe9Eav— Brian Kuebler (@BrianKuebler_) March 13, 2019
Part of that technological upgrade will be utilized for building an intangible goal for Harrison and the department, improving culture and accountability. Digital systems should promote efficiency. They should also make it easier for leaders to track trends and concerns, both in crime and in officer performance. Understanding such data should make it easier to assess if the department is meeting consent decree benchmarks and tackling the root issues of the city’s crime and violence.
Harrison acknowledged that the decree and the city’s violence problem cannot be looked at as two separate challenges, with one superseding the other. As he learned while leading the New Orleans Police Department as it dealt with its own consent decree, the systems needed to tackle those mandates must be developed simultaneous to the crime fight.
“In a consent decree, at first it’s not just implementation, you have to build the machine,” Harrison said. “We’re building a plane while it’s 35,000 feet in the air.”
I also asked @BaltimorePolice Commissioner Michael Harrison, with the turmoil of this department, the immense challenge and the public struggles of the city of #Baltimore, why leave home? Why take the job? His answer... @WMAR2News pic.twitter.com/fNrl1HMBI0— Brian Kuebler (@BrianKuebler_) March 13, 2019