By 7 o’clock Monday evening, acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison was guzzling a Red Bull to energize him for talking with residents after a long day and hoping it would wear off in time for him to go to sleep. Another early wake-up call was in store for him Tuesday.
On his first day on the job, Harrison said he’s eager to get to work, meeting the community and the 2,000 officers under his command.
“It’s an honor. It’s a privilege,” Harrison said as Mayor Catherine Pugh introduced him to reporters at City Hall on Monday morning.
”I’ve enjoyed a 28-year career in law enforcement and now this is the evolution of my career. The next chapter in my professional and my personal life.”
Harrison offered few details about how he would get a handle on one of the most challenging policing jobs in the nation. He enters a department in the midst of imposing civil rights reforms under the watch of a federal judge and battling rampant violence on the streets with what commanders and rank-and-file officers alike say are too few resources. Before making any decisions, Harrison outlined a period of study — getting to know the officers he leads and the communities they patrol.
“I heard the mayor call it a challenge,” Harrison said. “I see it as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for the city of Baltimore, for the police department, for me professionally.”
Harrison, wearing a Baltimore police uniform with four gold stars at his throat, said he has been receiving nightly briefings from interim commissioner Gary Tuggle since accepting the job last month. Tuggle has returned to his prior role as deputy police commissioner.
Pugh introduced Harrison as someone with the necessary experience to succeed in Baltimore. He was most recently police superintendent in New Orleans, which has also undergone civil rights reforms and faces high rates of violent crime.
“I truly believe, and certainly he does, that he’s up for the challenge,” Pugh said.
Harrison had messages for both his officers — saying he’d be the department’s “No. 1 advocate” — and a community with which he promised to build a relationship.
Harrison took his first steps on the ground toward getting to know the community at his first meet-and-greet Monday evening in Northwest Baltimore
The mayor submitted Harrison’s name to the City Council on Monday evening. The body has a vote on whether to approve him, and he’s expected to receive broad support. Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and four other members of the council appeared alongside Harrison at the news conference.
The brief event marked a contrast to Pugh’s introduction last year of Joel Fitzgerald, her previous choice to lead the department. He appeared in a suit and announced he would stay in his current job as police chief in Fort Worth, Texas, a decision that hampered his ability to build support in Baltimore. Fitzgerald ultimately withdrew from consideration after his son suffered a medical emergency.
An early question for Harrison is how he will respond to a move by State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to not prosecute marijuana possession cases. Harrison said he was meeting her Monday morning and would discuss the issue with her then.
Undeterred by Monday evening’s sleet and rain, several dozen people gathered in the auditorium of the Forest Park School for the first of nine public sessions around the city hosted by the mayor’s office.
In his opening remarks, Harrison talked about how he’d met his wife, who sat in the audience. He touted his experience in New Orleans, working undercover to investigate corrupt police, a reference to Baltimore’s corrupt former Gun Trace Task Force.
“Even then I had no problem putting bad cops away,” Harrison said to applause.
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Lining up before a microphone during the two-hour “meet and greet,” residents asked Harrison about the war on drugs, whether he would police homelessness, and how he would recruit and train new officers. They shared how the city’s violence had fractured their lives. One woman said she bought a German shepherd. Another woman spoke about the day her nephew was shot.
“We’re in pain,” one man said.
In the audience was Clayton Guyton, one of the stars of the recent documentary, “Charm City.” To him, the “jury is still out” on Pugh’s pick.
“I try not to jump to those fast conclusions,” he said. “I’m here to listen.”
For the first few weeks, so is Harrison.
Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.