Prospective future Baltimore Police Commissioner Joel Fitzgerald stressed the importance of rebuilding relationships with the community in order to implement the city’s consent decree and fix the department's tarnished image, at a press conference formally introducing him to the media Monday.
Fitzgerald is the Chief of Police in Fort Worth, Texas, a role he will continue to inhabit until he is affirmed by the Baltimore City Council. The council must vote on his appointment by Jan. 28. He was nominated for the top job in Baltimore on Nov. 16.
“I have some of the qualifications and characteristics of someone who can move the department forward and really work well with the community,” Fitzgerald said. “I think now, with the backing of the mayor, with the backing of city councilmen, hopefully, with the city working hand-in-hand with the police department like cities should, I think we have a very great opportunity to mend some of the broken fences.”
Fitzgerald was long on ambition and hope while being short on specifics as he assessed the potential challenges he would face. He said he needs to continue to “delve into what’s going on inside the organization.”
Fitzgerald began his career in law enforcement in Philadelphia. He moved from that department to run the police force in Missouri City, Texas. From there he returned to Pennsylvania, becoming the Chief of Police in Allentown, Pa. He returned to Texas in 2015, becoming the Chief of Police for Fort Worth, a city of about 900,000 but a significantly lower crime rate than Baltimore. He was asked how he would address Baltimore's struggles with a pervasively high crime rate and said he would need to assess all of what the city is doing.
“You work through your officers and you work through the people you invest time in and your subject matter experts to get things done,” Fitzgerald said. “We need to change the way we do business and focus on some of the things necessary to get crime under control.”
Pugh said what made Fitzgerald appealing was his experience running a department of more than 1,000 officers, and perhaps more poignantly, his knowledge of taking on community development, constitutional training, anti-bias training, and similar reform that will be required of the Baltimore Police Department as it adapts to the mandates of the consent decree and generally tries to fix what many see as a broken relationship between residents and police, and between police and city leaders.
“I would not have applied for this position had I not believed in my heart this was something I was uniquely qualified for and set out to do,” said Fitzgerald. “I think my record as far as being a police chief, a history of getting things done in the community, is there. … I’m very proud to say I will leave whatever department out there that I’ve left in better condition that when I first started.”
Fitzgerald was noncommittal about if he would bring in his own command staff or recruit new leaders from within the department, saying he needed to do a “great delve” into potential management.
“I think one of the first courses of action, when confirmed, is getting a real sense in the organization, who we have to work with,” Fitzgerald said. “Who are going to be the people who help this department forward.”
Fitzgerald returned to the idea of needing to build relationships between the community and the department as the only way to create a safer city and more reputable police agency.
“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. “My message to the city of Baltimore would be to give this police department a chance. … I understand that people don’t necessarily trust on the face a new police commissioner coming in. Trust us. We’re going to do things the right way.”
Council members said they want more than just a show and tell of the nominee.
"I will not be voting in favor of the nominee without seeing the whole background report I think it's ridiculous for anyone to expect us to do that," said Councilman Brandon Scott.
Councilman Zeke Cohen told WMAR-2 News, "I think it's councilmatic malpractice to not ask for the vet on this nominee. I've asked the city solicitor and made it really clear that I need to see the file on this individual because the citizens of Baltimore deserve transparency."
If confirmed, Fitzgerald would be the fourth commissioner this year alone.
Here's how the confirmation process goes:
The mayor will formally submit Fitzgerald's name for the job next Thursday.
That delegation from the Baltimore City Council will travel to Fort Worth December 9-11.
Council President Jack Young says there will be two hearings; one for the public and one for the council, starting the week of January 7. The council will then have until January 28 to confirm him as the next police commissioner.