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Mayor's police commissioner pick, Joel Fitzgerald, withdraws

Posted at 9:26 AM, Jan 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-07 18:46:21-05

BALTIMORE — Mayor Pugh's pick for the next Baltimore City Police Commissioner has withdrawn his name for consideration.

The Fort Worth Police Department tweeted Monday morning saying Joel Fitzgerald, who is their current police commissioner, withdrew his name for consideration for the Baltimore Police Commissioner job.

Fitzgerald was originally supposed to be in Baltimore this week but had to reschedule due to an unexpected family emergency. Mayor Pugh said in a statement that he withdrew his name because his son needs a second brain surgery.

“After a lengthy discussion with Chief Joel Fitzgerald, I respect his decision to withdraw his candidacy for Baltimore Police Commissioner in order to devote his full attention to his son who is now facing a second brain surgery tomorrow to remove a mass that was discovered late last week," Pugh said on Monday. "Our fervent prayers are with him and his family during what is unquestionably a troubling and stressful period for them. In the meantime, Interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle is on the job and very ably managing the day-to-day affairs of the Baltimore Police Department, along with his command staff. I will, of course, be communicating further on the process to select Baltimore’s permanent Police Commissioner.”

But a statement from Fitzgerald himself indicates he might not have taken the Baltimore position for other reasons,

"The decision to withdraw from the Baltimore process came down to this, I reflected upon the tremendous outpouring of heartfelt support I received here in Fort Worth over the last few months. Our community communicated this to me, even before this medical emergency occurred with my son, but is was reinforced thereafter knowing there was a possibility I could leave. Their support never wavered, and may have intensified. There is literally nowhere I go in this city of almost 900,000 residents where someone doesn’t approach me to say first, “Hey Chief, your Eagles stink, and by the way, you’re still needed and loved here in Fort Worth. I will now focus on my child’s next bout of brain surgery, and being home with family, my Fort Worth Police Department family...and this awesome community."

While it was Fitzgerald who decided not to come to Baltimore, opinions on him coming to Charm City were a mixed bag.

RELATED: People weigh in at Baltimore Police Commissioner public hearing

"The power that you guys [city council] absolutely have is to not confirm this guy," said one resident during a community meeting on Saturday.

"We need him here. He needs to be able to answer to the public and so at this point, I think the people have spoken and I think it's going to be very challenging to get him confirmed," Councilman Zeke Cohen previously said.

Fitzgerald's backlash comes after a 216-page report was released by the Baltimore City Council. A four person team conducted more than 15 hours of interviews with more than 30 people including police department members, elected representatives, government officials, community members and business leaders.

Of particular note were the relationships between local residents and the police forces Fitzgerald lead. Some say relations improved after he came to Fort Worth, others say it got worse.

“Since Fitzgerald’s arrival, I can safely say the relationships between the community and police has definitely improved,” said Roy Hudson, the former president of the Fort Worth Black Law Enforcement Association. “In 23 years, he’s the most community-oriented chief we’ve ever had. I think that as a whole we’re light years ahead of where we were.”

"His only job was to make things better in the police department racially between the police department, officers and black community and he made it worse. During this time he did not come up with any policing ideas that I can give you an example that would make this man qualified to be your next chief," Retired Sgt. Kevin Fitchett said.

Now Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is forced to make another pick for the top cop job. Three different people held the same commissioner position over 2018, and getting Pugh to finally pick Fitzgerald, or anyone to hold the job, was a long time coming.

"I'm just thankful that they finally made a decision and have somebody in there," Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said after Fitzgerald was originally picked in November. "You cant have a major city with a major violent crime problem and no leadership, so I am happy they finally made a decision"

Fitzgerald was set to replace interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle, who took over for Darryl De Sousa after he was federally charged with not filing his taxes. De Sousa was the replacement for Kevin Davis, who Pugh fired in January.