Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh announced that she has chosen New Orleans police superintendent Michael Harrison to lead the city’s police department, a day after her previous pick for commissioner withdrew from consideration.
On his first day on the job Monday, Baltimore’s new acting police commissioner, Michael Harrison, is expected to hear a host of concerns, including from a West Baltimore community about persistent drug dealing.
At the first of nine community meet-and-greet events Monday evening, Franklintown Community Association President Beatrice Kondo hopes Harrison will address the exchange of cash and drugs on the corners and a gas station on Forest Park Avenue that was once known for "pervasive illegal activity.”
“It’s a very stable community overall,” said Kondo, whose neighborhood straddles the Baltimore County line. But the drug-dealing is “an issue that our community continues to battle.”
The arrival of Harrison, 49, the former New Orleans police superintendent, follows a months-long search that began last May when then-Commissioner Darryl De Sousa resigned after being charged with failing to file his income tax returns. Gary Tuggle has been serving as interim police commissioner since May.
Among the events on Harrison’s first-day schedule is a monthly Cabinet meeting in the mayor’s executive conference room in City Hall at 8 a.m., according to the mayor’s office. At 10 a.m., the mayor will introduce Harrison at a news conference. Harrison will also move into his new office at police headquarters and attend meetings with command staff.
He’s also expected to be fitted for his uniform sometime Monday morning, the mayor’s office said.
At the end of the day, Harrison will attend his first meet and greet event from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Forest Park High School, 3701 Eldorado Ave., in the Northwest Police District. The meet and greets are scheduled through Feb. 22.
City Solicitor Andre Davis said much of Harrison’s first days on the job will be spent “meeting with people, making assessments.”
Harrison’s wife, C.C. Harrison, said the couple drove to Baltimore, arriving late Thursday night, and were in the process of settling into their new home.
She said her husband was completing some human resources paperwork on Friday, while she was picking up items at the store to move in.
As with any new job, the first few weeks can be challenging. But Harrison has the added test of taking on what many consider the country’s most difficult job in law enforcement.
As commissioner, he’s expected to help reduce violent crime in a city that has seen more than 300 homicides in each of the past four years. He’s expected to lead court-mandated reforms under the consent decree reached between the city and U.S. Justice Department to address unconstitutional and discriminatory policing. And there’s also an immediate issue with a force that Tuggle said Thursday was “understaffed across the board.”
Harrison is the first outsider to lead the department since 2012, when Anthony W. Batts, who previously led police departments in Long Beach and Oakland, Calif., took the helm. The next two police commissioners were promoted into the position.
Davis said he expects Harrison will spend a lot of time listening to the community’s concerns at the coming meetings. He will also be making decisions and possibly bringing in additional staff to implement changes. Harrison’s $275,000 contract allows him to build an executive team, including hiring a chief of staff and as many as eight other senior commanders.
Harrison will likely meet with U.S Attorney Robert K. Hur in the coming weeks, though nothing formal has been scheduled, said Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman with the U.S. attorney’s office. She said Hur has called Harrison and welcomed him to Baltimore.
A spokeswoman for city State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office said the mayor’s office is arranging a meeting this week between Harrison and Mosby.
Harrison already met with U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar, who is overseeing the consent decree. Davis said he introduced Harrison to the judge, thinking the meeting would be a brief.
“They hit it off well. When I introduced them, it turned into a very substantive hourlong conversation,” Davis said.
Davis said the conversation centered on “community policing, constitutional policing.” The two also discussed the Ethical Policing is Courageous, or EPIC, program that Harrison launched in New Orleans, which trains officers to intervene if they perceive possible misconduct by fellow officers.
Mayor Catherine Pugh’s pick for Baltimore’s next police commissioner was once a corrupt cop — but only as part of an undercover ruse. Michael Harrison, then a young police officer, helped the FBI take down real corrupt cops and a drug ring that was flooding cocaine into New Orleans.
Also Monday, Pugh is expected to formally submit Harrison’s nomination to the City Council’s executive appointments committee, which will hold a March 4 hearing, and then a vote at a later date.
Councilman Isaac "Yitzy" Schleifer said he’s scheduled to meet Harrison on Thursday. He said he will ask Harrison about his plans for reforming the department and his plans to drive down crime. Schleifer said he will show Harrison the results of a recent poll he conducted among 400 city police officers from different districts and of district ranks, about the state of the department.
“I feel that this survey that we’ve conducted is the most data-driven approach to what are some of the challenges,” he said. “I want to ask him how he plans to address those issues.”
Schleifer said he’s pleased to see the city move forward and hopefully change for the better.
“There’s certainly a level of optimism being that Mr. Harrison has the proper credentials and experiences, so I think everyone is optimistic about the direction that we are going in,” he said. “We just want to make sure we cross our t’s and dot our i’s.”
Ashiah Parker, interim director of the No Boundaries Coalition, which has long advocated for police reform in Baltimore, said several coalition members plan to attend a Friday meeting at Frederick Douglass High School in the Western District to get to know Harrison.
“We want to learn what some of his first priorities are, what are the best ways to engage with him,” she said. “We really want to use that opportunity to listen.”
Parker said she hopes he will express a commitment to transparency and ways to keep the community engaged with the police department.
“We feel cautiously optimistic,” she said.
Kondo, the Franklintown resident, said she, too, looks forward to working with Harrison and having a permanent leader to help address crime concerns like those in her community.
His tenure, she said, is hopefully a turning point for the Police Department. She hopes he will provide a steady hand to get things done.