Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday that she is seriously considering hiring a former acting Baltimore police commissioner -- a recent critic of the agency and advocate for tougher policing tactics -- for a role in City Hall where he would advise her on crime policy.
Anthony Barksdale, who directed operations for the Police Department from 2007 to 2012, served as acting commissioner in 2012 and sought the post permanently, has interviewed to be director of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice, the mayor said.
The director helps coordinate criminal justice initiatives and policy, liaises with state law enforcement and oversees $14.5 million in public safety grants for the city.
Pugh said she was also interviewing other candidates, whom she declined to name.
“I’m looking for someone who has a relationship with the police department, who understands CitiStat, Safe Streets and the structure of the organization,” Pugh said. Safe Streets is an anti-violence initiative in which ex offenders intervene to attempt to resolve neighborhood disputes. CitiStat is a data driven accountability program.
Barksdale declined to comment.
Pugh’s consideration of Barksdale comes as the mayor seeks City Council confirmation of her nominee to become the next police commissioner. Her choice, Joel Fitzgerald, is police chief in Fort Worth, Texas.
Some previous directors of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice have served as close advisers to the police commissioner, as well as the mayor. But Barksdale’s past pursuit of the commissioner’s post could create tension with police brass.
“The biggest worry is that he and the new commissioner won’t be able to work together,” said City Councilman Brandon Scott, who is chairman of the council’s public safety committee.
Scott praised Barksdale’s crime-fighting acumen, but said he would have to prove he could work with a new commissioner and adapt to modern policing strategies.
“Barksdale is one of the smartest crime-fighting minds that I know,” Scott said. “He’s a West Baltimore boy. I think he will be able to rapidly assist and break down information to move agencies in a quicker manner to deal with crime. My hope is he and the command staff at the Police Department can work together and come to an understanding of where we need to go in policing.”
Barksdale’s tenure as deputy police commissioner coincided with major drops in violent crime, with the city experiencing fewer than 200 homicides in 2011 for the first time in nearly three decades. The Police Department formally disavowed zero-tolerance tactics and advocated “targeted enforcement,” though it carried out those strategies using plainclothes units often linked to brutality and misconduct.
When Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld retired in 2012, Barksdale became acting commissioner and was considered by some to be a front-runner for the post. But then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake chose Anthony Batts, and Barksdale went on medical leave, where he remained until retiring in 2014.
Barksdale, 47, has since emerged as an outspoken critic of the agency — as well as the federal consent decree outlining sweeping reforms aimed at curbing Baltimore police misconduct.
“Baltimore leadership, just stop with the crime comments. You took the city down this path. You chased after a consent decree handcuffing your own cops, while turning the city over to criminals,” Barksdale tweeted in November 2017.
In September 2018, he tweeted: “Things were supposed to get better under the consent decree, right? Wrong!”
On Friday, Barksdale deleted his Twitter account.
Barksdale testified Dec. 18 before a state commission investigating the circumstances surrounding the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, in which eight city officers were convicted of robbing citizens, lying on official paperwork and stealing overtime pay. Barksdale spoke of a need to increase accountability within the agency, saying officers need to know commanders are looking over their shoulders and scrutinizing results.
“It doesn’t work when you’re weak,” Barksdale said. “It can be nasty in that room, but there has to be accountability.”
The job of director of the mayor’s criminal justice office is vacant because Drew Vetter left in November for a leadership post in Baltimore County. The city office has 18 employees and Vetter was paid $168,000 as its head.
Baltimore has suffered from more than 300 homicides in 2018 for the fourth consecutive year.
A city native, Barksdale became the youngest deputy commissioner in the agency's history in 2007 at age 35 when Bealefeld named him to the post.
City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young once called Barksdale the "architect" of the crime strategy that led to the historic crime declines.
After retiring from the Police Department, Barksdale was briefly the director of security at Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino. He resigned four months after the casino opened in 2015.