Before Baltimore can launch a national search for its next police commissioner, city leaders must decide what they most need in a candidate, analysts say.
It won’t be easy, they say, in part because Baltimore has so many problems, and places so many unique demands on its top cop.
The next commissioner will head a police department that is facing intense levels of violence, that is under a federal consent decree that requires reforms, that has a tarnished reputation in the community, that is reeling from a series of scandals, and that is woefully behind in acquiring and adopting technology.
Sheldon Greenberg is a professor in the Johns Hopkins University’s division of public safety leadership.
“Do you want a change agent? Do you want someone who can stabilize? Do you want someone who is innovative? Do you want someone who is more of a traditionalist with a mastery of basic patrol tactics?” he has asked. “The city says to the search firm, ‘Here are the standards’ — or the needs, the desires, whatever you want to call them — ‘that create the basis for the search.’ ”
Where the city is in that process is unclear.
Former Commissioner Darryl De Sousa, a 30-year veteran of the department, resigned after just a few months on the job amid federal criminal tax charges. Maor Catherine E. Pugh appointed Deputy Commissioner Gary Tuggle as interim commissioner during the search for De Sousa’s permanent replacement. Tuggle has not said whether he wants the job permanently.
Pugh has said the search will consider internal and external candidates, but has provided no timeline for the search and has not responded to other questions about the format for the search or the cost.
“They’re still finalizing details of the search,” said James Bentley, a Pugh spokesman. “She doesn’t have anything to announce, but she will be announcing something shortly.”
Typically, analysts say, jurisdictions will contract with a search firm with experience in the field. The last time Baltimore conducted a national search for a commissioner, then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake hired the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum to work with a local panel of city officials, business and academic leaders and other consultants.
Greenberg, who has worked for the Police Executive Research Forum, said hiring such a search firm is crucial, because it has connections in national law enforcement circles and is familiar with the candidates across the country who are qualified to take a job and might want it.
“You’re paying them for their knowledge of the field and who’s out there, and that’s how you speed the process along,” he said.
Sarah Guy is a senior adviser for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which also conducts searches for cities.
The fact that Baltimore has several specific needs beyond the baseline requirements in state and local laws — must be at least 30, must be a U.S. citizen, etc. — isn’t necessarily a problem, she said. Candidate searches can be highly individualized.
“It’s not really a cookie-cutter approach,” she said. “It’s really tailored to each jurisdiction and their needs.”
Cities sometimes draft their own list of requirements, Guy said. They sometimes open the discussion up to the community for broader input.
The police profession is changing rapidly, with new community policing methods, new technologies like body cameras, newer concepts of de-escalation and newer engagement practices in communities dealing with issues such as mental illness, addiction and homelessness.
Guy said many of the commanders who would be top candidates for the Baltimore job — deputy commissioners in big cities, chiefs in smaller towns, federal law enforcement officials looking to switch gears in their careers — are already engaged in those changes on a daily basis.
“It’s going to be someone that has a good understanding, not just of the current challenges, but: What are the solutions to those challenges? Where does the field need to be going?” she said. “It’s going to be someone who can look to the future.”
Christopher Dreisbach, an associate professor at Hopkins who focuses on ethics in public leadership, has been an adviser to the Baltimore police training academy. After De Sousa’s resignation, he said, city leaders should prioritize impeccable integrity among candidates.
Jonathan Smith, a former chief of special litigation in the Justice Department's civil rights division, helped oversee police consent decrees under the Obama administration. He said the Justice Department and court officials overseeing Baltimore’s consent decree are no doubt keenly interested in the search for the next chief. He said the city would be wise to seek their counsel through the appropriate channel: the independent monitor, who acts as an intermediary between the parties and U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar.
The consent decree is just more than a year old, but the department is already on its third commissioner during that time. Any new hire would be the fourth.
“I’m sure everybody is very frustrated,” Smith said. “What they’re trying to do with the consent decree is a very complicated thing, and you need stability in leadership to do it.”
He said Pugh and other city leaders should also be forthcoming with the public about the candidates, the selection process, and the skill sets to be prioritized in the national search, Smith said — especially in light of the transparency requirements under the consent decree.
City officials should not “just bring somebody in without engaging the community,” he said.
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“They have to be out there saying, ‘This is what we know, this is what we don’t know, this is what we can tell you and this is what we can’t tell you, and this is when we’ll be able to tell you more.’ ”