Just three days after being touted as the commander who would oversee reforms in the wake of an accidental shooting during training, the new head of the Baltimore police academy informed top brass Friday that he intends to leave the agency.
Maj. Joseph E. Smith III, a 25-year veteran, told the police commissioner that he plans to retire from the department and take an outside job, according to a police spokesman. Smith could not be reached for comment.
"He said it was too big of an opportunity to pass up," said chief spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. "It unfortunately comes at an inopportune time" for the Baltimore Police Department.
Police moved swiftly to find a replacement, appointing Lt. Col. Ross Buzzuro, 27-year veteran, to the post. He is the fourth person to be named to the position in the past year.
"We shouldn't miss a beat," Buzzuro said in a brief interview.
Word of the change came the same day officials said the University of Maryland campus officer wounded in the shooting had been released from the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Police said the incident occurred when a training instructor mistook his service weapon for a paint-cartridge pistol during an unauthorized drill at the closed Rosewood Center, a former state institution for the developmentally disabled in Owings Mills.
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts introduced Smith to reporters Tuesday as the police academy resumed instructional operations. Smith had spent half his career at the training academy or in internal affairs and said he was looking forward to reviewing academy operations.
Buzzuro said his only experience at the academy was when he went through as a recruit. But he is a respected commander with experience running the Northern District. Until Friday, he was overseeing the special operations section, which includes the SWAT team. He also has served as ethics commander of the department's internal investigations section.
In 2011, Buzzuro helped render medical aid and save the life of a marathon runner who collapsed.
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents parts of the Northern District, praised the choice of Buzzuro, calling him the "one of the finest district commanders I ever worked with in all my 24 years."
"Everything he does, he does methodically, professionally and with extreme seriousness," Clarke said. "He's the best I can think of to go and straighten out this training academy."
The Police Department has seen a lot of turnover with several key leadership changes since Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III retired last year. Clarke noted that such changes have been taking place throughout city government. Several high-ranking administration officials have left over the past year and a half.
"It's a good thing we don't use Rolodexes anymore, because we'd have run out of cards," Clarke said, while noting that change "isn't a bad thing."
Smith's effective retirement date is in May, and he will help with the transition, Guglielmi said.
The training academy has gone through several directors. Bealefeld recruited Montgomery County official John King to lead the academy early last year, but King resigned after six months.
Maj. Eric Russell was abruptly placed in the job after being moved from the Southwest District amid a spike in gun violence there. Russell was suspended after the shooting during training last week. Officials have said he did not know that the exercise was taking place.
The budget for police education and training was cut from $5.72 million in fiscal 2008 to $3.97 million in fiscal year 2012, though it saw a bump to $5.3 million in the current fiscal year.
Smith's quick departure after being appointed to the high-profile post was reminiscent of a similar occurrence in 2010, when Maj. Scott Bloodsworth was appointed by Bealefeld to oversee reforms in the sex offense unit after a Baltimore Sun investigation indicated that police were not fully investigating many reported rapes. Within a week, Bloodsworth opted to retire.
The officer injured in the Rosewood shooting left Shock Trauma, but it was unclear whether the officer had been transferred to another facility. Hospital officials said Friday that they could confirm only that he had been discharged. University of Maryland Police Chief Antonio Williams said the family does not want details about his recovery released.
Police have identified Officer William Scott Kern, an 18-year veteran, as the instructor who fired the shot that critically wounded the trainee. Law enforcement sources have told The Sun that the shot might have been fired outside of a training exercise.
Kern, 46, remains suspended while state police investigate the shooting. The results will be forwarded to the Baltimore County state's attorney's office.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said Baltimore police did not have permission to use the Rosewood Center. And Kern was carrying his service weapon though police safety standards prohibit loaded weapons being brought into training sessions.
"We had a major procedural breakdown in our systems, and we're working to correct those," Batts said earlier this week. "We're expanding this [review] to ensure we have proper protocols and we're serving this city in a constitutional way."
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin George contributed to this article.
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