Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison holds the first of a series of community meetings on his first day on the job. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
Capping the end of his first day as acting Baltimore Police Commissioner, Michael Harrison met with members of the community Monday night in Northwest Baltimore.
Lining up before a microphone during the two-hour meet-and-greet at Forest Park High School, residents asked Harrison how he would repair the department’s relationship with the city and win back public trust after years of hostility.
“There is no distinction between the department and the community,” Harrison told the audience of several dozen residents and city leaders who’d braved the snow and sleet to meet him. He shared the story of meeting his wife, C.C. Harrison, when they were just teenagers in New Orleans. She sat in the audience and, along with her husband, shook hands with community members both before and after the event began.
Harrison recounted his experience working in Louisiana at a time of deep mistrust in the department, and his time working undercover to investigate corrupt police officers. “Even then I had no problem putting bad cops away,” Harrison said. The crowd applauded.
Harrison joins the Baltimore Police Department at a time when it faces the simultaneous challenges of reducing crime while implementing reforms mandated by a federal consent decree, while being understaffed. Before making any decisions, Harrison outlined a period of study — getting to know the officers he leads and the communities they patrol.
In response to a question about the causes of gun violence, Harrison said guns had become people’s “conflict resolution tool” — and that stiffer consequences were needed to keep illegal guns off the streets.
Residents shared how the city’s violence had fractured their lives, and spoke of police officers’ failures to address the problems. One woman said she bought a German shepherd. Another woman spoke about the day her nephew was shot. Other complained of daily crimes such as prostitution and drug dealing on the corner.
“We’re in pain,” one man said.
Afterward, activist Kim Truehart said she felt Harrison was truly committed to improving the department’s relationship with the community. “His first day on the job, where is he? In the community. I can’t be mad when you start off this way.”
Bolton Hill resident David Troy, who runs a Facebook group called Baltimore City Voters, called the event “the beginning.”
“This isn’t going to get fixed next year,” he said. “We have a long road.” Troy was one of a handful of guests to meet Harrison last month at an unannounced get-together at City Hall.
The public hearing Monday was the end of a long first day for Harrison. Beforehand, he drank a Red Bull to stay alert — but said he hoped it would wear off in time for him to fall asleep. His first meeting Tuesday is set for 7 a.m.