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Baltimore police commissioner nominee's resume overstates accomplishments on violent crime drop, body cameras

Joel Fitzgerald the police commissioner in Forth Worth, Texas is the candidate chosen by Mayor Catherine Pugh as a possible police commissioner for Baltimore.

In a resume submitted in his bid to become Baltimore police commissioner, Joel Fitzgerald pitched himself as a community-minded reformer and an effective crime fighter — just what the city’s leaders are looking for.

But in the document, Fitzgerald overstates some of his achievements since becoming police chief in Fort Worth, Texas, in October 2015.

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In one case, he misrepresents his role in the Fort Worth Police Department’s body camera program. In another, he paints a rosier picture of his results in bringing down crime than FBI data reflects. And Fitzgerald credits himself with improving reporting on racial profiling, even though a new Texas law required the efforts.

Fitzgerald initially declined to release his resume to the public, only for Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to share it once she formally submitted his name to the City Council. The eight-page document includes detailed bullet points about his accomplishments as police chief in Missouri City, Texas; Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Fort Worth.

Fitzgerald declined Thursday morning to comment for this article.

Claim: “Promoting steep decreases in Part I and overall crime while navigating increasing budget pressure.”

One of Fitzgerald’s biggest charges in Baltimore would be bringing down crime rates — especially a near-record level of homicides the city has seen in recent years. Fitzgerald’s assertion of cutting crime rates in Fort Worth doesn’t tell the full story.

The Fort Worth Police Department publishes data showing an overall decline in crime of 5.5 percent from 2015 to 2017. And the rate of Part I crimes — serious offenses tracked by the FBI — fell about 8 percent from 2015, the year Fitzgerald started as chief in Fort Worth, to 2017, the most recent year covered by the FBI data.

But the FBI breaks out the numbers into violent and property crimes, and the more detailed figures show the crime decline in Fort Worth is driven entirely by a drop in the numbers of thefts and burglaries. Rates rose in every other category tracked by the FBI. The overall violent crime rate in Fort Worth climbed 7 percent, and the homicide rate was up 19 percent.

(Baltimore Sun Graphic)

Gains made in 2018 could improve the picture of Fitzgerald’s tenure. The Fort Worth department has released quarterly figures that show rates of some serious crimes — including rape and aggravated assaults — were lower from January to September 2018 than they were for the same period in 2015. But the homicide rate was up slightly and robberies had climbed 6 percent. Overall, crime was down 14 percent for the first nine months of 2018, compared with the same period three years earlier.

Manny Ramirez, the president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, said crime decreased in 2018, but he wasn’t sure why. One possible explanation, he said, was that there were more officers on the streets.

As for successfully navigating the budget, David Cooke, the Fort Worth city manager, told members of a Baltimore City Council delegation last month that Fitzgerald found managing the department’s finances a “challenge.”

“There are to be no pay raises if he overspends his budget, but the police department continues to overspend,” Cooke said, according to a report of the interview released by the council. “It should be up to the chief to keep his department in line.”

But in the same interview, Jay Chapa, an assistant city manager, credited Fitzgerald for reducing overtime spending by at least $3 million.

And Mayor Betsy Price said in a separate session that Fitzgerald inherited budget problems from the previous chief.

“They did a good job this year,” she said. “They were a little over, but it was a lag from some carryover.”

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Claim: “Initiating the largest active Body Worn Camera program in Texas.”

Body cameras have helped hold police accountable and uncover misconduct in Baltimore since their 2016 rollout.

Although Fitzgerald says in his resume, submitted Dec. 3 to the City Council, that he began the program in Fort Worth, that city was using body cameras before he arrived and launched a testing program in early 2011, according to a 2015 presentation by a sergeant in the Police Department posted on a U.S. Justice Department website.

The resume also refers to the Fort Worth program as the largest in Texas. Lt. Brandon O’Neil, a spokesman for the department, said this week he didn’t know exactly how many of its 1,700 officers have cameras, but said everyone in the patrol and tactical units has them. New officers are also given cameras, O’Neil said.

Even if all 1,700 officers had cameras, Fort Worth’s program would not be the largest in Texas. For instance, Houston has 2,650 cameras being used by 4,491 officers, said Jodi Silva, a spokeswoman for that department.

Ramirez and an officer interviewed by the Baltimore City Council delegation said Fitzgerald did expand the Fort Worth program. He also updated the camera technology and rewrote policies about how the cameras should be used.

Claim: “Effecting Racial Profiling reporting enhancements that deter racial profiling and under-reporting use of force.”

One of the key findings of the U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation into the Baltimore Police Department was that the department used strategies that led to disproportionate rates of arrests, searches and stops of African-Americans. Fitzgerald would be tasked with ending the department’s discriminatory approaches, under guidance of a consent decree overseen by a federal judge.

In Fort Worth, racial profiling reports produced by consultants for the Police Department show a mixed picture about the racial disparities of traffic stops in Fort Worth under Fitzgerald’s tenure. In 2016, more than half of drivers pulled over were white, even though fewer than 50 percent of the city’s residents are white. A quarter of those stopped were Hispanic, while they represent more than a third of the city’s population. About a fifth of people pulled over were African-American, similar to the percentage of residents who are black.

But, the report shows, black residents were disproportionately searched or arrested after being stopped. They represented almost half of the searches and more than half the arrests.

In 2017, a new consultant compared rates of car usage by households of different races to the rates at which they were stopped. Those figures showed white drivers being stopped at disproportionately low rates that year, while black drivers were stopped at disproportionately higher rates. But the 2017 figures also showed a decline in the rates at which black drivers were searched and arrested, although they remained disproportionately high.

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Alex del Carmen, the consultant who prepared the 2017 report, said Fitzgerald pushed the department to collect more information than required under Texas law, including gathering records on pedestrian stops. But a new law came into effect in 2018 that requires more detailed data collection across the state and updated policies.

In del Carmen’s view, Fitzgerald should get some credit for changing what data is collected, but “to say that he changed everything because he was the one who did it all, that’s not factual.”

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