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Baltimore Police Commissioner Harrison amid City Hall upheaval: 'I'm still working'

Baltimore Police Commissioner Harrison amid City Hall upheaval: 'I'm still working'
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison at a press briefing last week. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said Tuesday that, amid the political upheaval at City Hall, he remains focused on fighting crime and reforming the police department.

“I’m thinking that I should remain focused and not be distracted by anything that’s going on around me, and focus on what I know how to do,” he said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.

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Harrison, the former police superintendent in New Orleans, was hired to lead Baltimore’s troubled police department by Mayor Catherine Pugh in January.

Pugh on Monday cited a pneumonia diagnosis in taking a leave of absence amid a growing political scandal related to her selling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of her “Healthy Holly” children’s books to entities she helped oversee or that do business with the city.

On Tuesday, Pugh’s attorney confirmed that the state prosecutor has opened an investigation into her book sales.

Harrison said he remains unshaken by those developments and committed to doing his part to deliver “strong, decisive, steady leadership” to Baltimore’s residents.

“I’m sorry to see the mayor in this position, and sorry to see the city going through what it is going through,” Harrison said. “Although I’m eternally grateful for being hired by the mayor and being brought to Baltimore by the mayor, my commitment is to the citizens of Baltimore.”

Overall violent crime is slightly down over this time last year, but homicides and non-fatal shootings are both up by more than 20 percent.

Harrison said he is continuing to tweak the department’s crime and deployment strategies daily, and continues to meet one-on-one with department leaders to assess capabilities and needs.

He said he spoke with Acting Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young — the City Council president who stepped up to take over for Pugh — on Tuesday.

Harrison said that “any conversations between the mayor and the police chief are always confidential,” but that he and Young had “great communication and a great talk about moving forward and staying focused.”

Harrison said he didn’t come to Baltimore because he thought it would be easy.

“People have often referred to my taking this position as a challenge,” he said. “I’ve always countered that by saying, ‘You know what? It’s also an opportunity.’”

And he said he has “no reason to believe” his work in Baltimore will end anytime soon.

“I feel confident that I will be here,” he said. “Regardless of who the mayor will be, I feel confident that the city will honor its commitment, as I honor my commitment.”

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