Mayor Catherine Pugh stood by her conviction that she will not be held to a strict timeline in selecting the next Baltimore Police Commissioner when engaging with media at Lexington Market, Wednesday.
"Here's what I'm not going to do," Pugh said while eating in front of a media gaggle who attended a scheduled event at the market. "I'm not going to be rushed into this process."
Pugh had originally said she would name the city’s next top cop by Halloween. She revised that deadline today, saying the original projection was more of a hopeful target than a mandate.
An avid runner, Pugh compared the self-imposed deadline to how she approaches tackling races, saying a finish faster than expected is great, but "if I go over that time, I'm going to be pretty close to what my deadline is," Pugh said.
Pugh was not the only member of her team who announced the Halloween deadline. During a July 26 Consent Decree procedure, City Solicitor Andre Davis told president Chief Judge James K. Bredar that the next commissioner would be in place by the end of October.
Davis ensures Judge Bredar that the next commissioner will be up for the task and in position before Halloween. @WMAR2News
— Brian Kuebler (@BrianKuebler_) July 26, 2018
Pugh said she is down to a short list of "very, very few" potential candidates. What is most important right now is keeping the City Council informed of the process and making sure the selection is right, Pugh said.
The city seemed close to naming a new commissioner last Friday, when reports out of the Dallas/Fort Worth area announced Joel Fitzgerald, the Fort Worth Chief of Police, would be heading to Baltimore to take over the city’s police department. While the mayor of Fort Worth originally confirmed the rumor, Pugh never acknowledged Fitzgerald would be her pick, and the reports out of Texas were swiftly couched if not rescinded.
Whomever is named the new Police Commissioner, the person will be the fourth to fill the roll in 2018. Kevin Davis started the year at the helm of the department, but he was dismissed by Pugh as crime remained at high levels during the winter. He was replaced by long-time member of the department Daryl De Sousa, but after he was charged with failure to pay taxes, De Sousa stepped down in April.
Former BPD Detective and member of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Philadelphia office Gary Tuggle assumed the position as Interim Commissioner. Originally he voiced an interested in taking over the role permanently. Tuggle recently informed Pugh that he no longer was interested in being permanent commissioner, saying the next leader of the department would need more time than he was willing to invest to change the force.
The department’s Chief Media Spokesman T.J. Smith also recently resigned, citing a desire to pursue new interests and not have his name besmirched by the infighting between the department and the city.
With the department still navigating the fallout of the Consent Decree, the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, and years of a strained relationship between the city's residents and its law enforcement, the next Commissioner will step into an agency in turmoil, likely needing several years to implement policies that may improve the force's image and operations.
Pugh spoke of going back to the 1800s, looking at the tenure of former police leaders, with the average time as commissioner lasting two or three years, with some staying closer to six to 10 years, and the briefest stretch lasting 90 days.
"We want someone to come in and help stabilize this department," Pugh said. "We would like to see them here for at least four or five years."