The Baltimore Police Department's chief spokesman for the past two years said he is leaving the agency after this week to form a communications consulting company.
Capt. Eric Kowalczyk, who has spent 13 years with the Police Department in various capacities, said his new company, The INVIA Group, will work with police departments across the country to improve their messaging and transparency efforts.
Kowalczyk, 37, was a sworn officer in a position typically held by civilian communications professionals. He said he worked to improve the agency's outreach efforts across media platforms, particularly to highlight the existing community work officers were doing.
"The work we've been doing over the past two years was to try to find ways to humanize our officers," he said. "It was to find stories that connected with the outreach efforts we were doing."
The agency now counts 130,000 Twitter followers, one of the most of any police department in the country, but was also criticized in some corners for a public relations approach that could be too heavy-handed.
He also marshaled the agency's outreach efforts as frustration with the department boiled over into unrest and rioting following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Kowalczyk said that frustration had accumulated over the years.
"One of the things we've said routinely is that the solution won't come overnight," he said. "It will take a lot of energy put into really engaging and showing the community that there's a sincere desire to be equal partners."
In its review of the riot response, the police union singled out the media relations office for disseminating a "gang threat" against police officers that was later deemed not credible. Kowalczyk said that the agency spread the warning under exigent circumstances and would do so again out of caution, which the union said lacked introspection over the way it undermined public trust.
Kowalczyk was a trailblazer of sorts as one of the agency's most prominent openly gay members. Earlier in his career, he served as an LGBT liaison for the agency to the public, and helped put together an LGBT advisory council for then-Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts.
Recently, the department started putting together materials for Pride Week and sought gay officers who would be willing to tell their story. A few years ago, few were willing to be part of such efforts, he said.
"One by one, we started to see officers and sergeants popping up – more than I had an idea were even in the department," Kowalczyk said. He paused, holding back emotions: "It was very moving to see how far we've come."