A handful of community members got a chance to meet with Baltimore Police commissioner-designate Michael Harrison at an unannounced get-together at City Hall and received a preview of the mayor’s plans for nominating Harrison to the job and introducing him to residents.
The meeting, held Thursday, was a surprise. Mayor Catherine Pugh’s office previously said Harrison was only making his first visit to Baltimore this week to find someplace to live and wouldn’t carry out any official business.
Pugh adviser Greg Tucker said Friday that Harrison’s house-hunting went more quickly than expected, so he decided to hold a few meetings Thursday. Harrison spoke with police department commanders and the City Council president, as well as the community organizers. And before heading back to his hometown of New Orleans, Harrison met Friday with U.S. District Judge James Bredar, who is overseeing the court-ordered consent decree to reform the Baltimore Police Department and provide law enforcement that is constitutional.
“He is looking forward to a full and extensive schedule of meetings with the community upon his return, when he will assume the role of acting commissioner prior to his nomination to the City Council,” Tucker said.
That schedule will include 10 community meetings — one in each police district and another billed as a citywide event — in the final two weeks of February, according to a list shared by an attendee at Thursday’s meeting.
The plans are more extensive than those the mayor’s office announced for her previous selection, Fort Worth, Texas, police chief Joel Fitzgerald. Unlike Harrison, Fitzgerald declined to come to Baltimore as acting commissioner before being confirmed by the City Council and was expected to attend just three community meetings during his confirmation process.
But the general public was not notified of the community leaders’ meeting Thursday and members of the media were not invited. Some of the details that emerged on social media afterward caught some city leaders by surprise.
Councilman Brandon Scott said the mayor’s team should be mindful of how Harrison is introduced to the community after being criticized for secrecy around Pugh’s previous choice.
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.
“Council members should not be finding out about planned public meetings for the nominee via a Facebook post,” Scott said. “That’s something that should have been discussed with the council members — when those things are going to be and where they're going to be, period.”
Some attendees at the meeting shared online their impressions of Harrison and details of the rollout, including that Pugh would formally nominate him March 11 to the council. The mayor’s office has not confirmed that date, but if it holds, it would give the council until March 25 to hold a final up-or-down vote. If the council didn’t vote by that date, the nomination would be approved automatically.
David Troy, who runs a Facebook group called Baltimore City Voters, was one of about 15 residents invited to Thursday’s event. He posted a detailed account to the group.
“I think they’re trying to correct some of the mistakes that happened with the Fitzgerald nomination,” Troy said Thursday night in an interview.
“He seems like a genuinely nice and intelligent guy with a warm personality,” he said.
He said Harrison expressed confidence in his ability to transform the department, and said it would be necessary to hire and fire officers to effect a cultural change.
Mike Hilliard, who works for the community organization HARBEL, also attended the meeting and shared his impressions on social media.
“At first blush, he is an impressive person with a great deal of experience in policing a city very similar to ours,” Hilliard wrote.
“He understands that policing is a partnership between the residents served and the police,” Hilliard wrote.
The city has had three police commissioners in the past year. Pugh fired Kevin Davis last January. His replacement, Darryl De Sousa, resigned in May after being federally charged with failing to file his income tax returns. Gary Tuggle has served as interim commissioner since May.