Gov. Wes Moore’s candidate for Maryland’s top cop faced questions Monday from a Senate panel about his leadership role in the embattled state police agency.
Lt. Col. Roland Butler, who has spent 28 years with the Maryland State Police, is the nominee for superintendent of the agency. He most recently served as chief of the field operations bureau, overseeing patrol and investigative personnel.
During that time, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a probe into the state police to examine if it racially discriminated in its hiring and promotion practices, and a group of troopers of color alleged similar wrongdoing in a federal lawsuit. Both are ongoing.
How, then, some state lawmakers asked, is Butler best-suited to lead the agency forward?
Butler’s answer: “Yes, I was a part of that structure. But as a bureau chief, you don’t get to see everything. I wish I would have seen more. But you just don’t get to see everything. We’re talking about 1,000 troopers and 23 [barracks].”
He told the Senate Executive Nominations Committee he stands by his record and knows he’s “up to the task” to move the agency into a “new era.”
“We must get this right,” Butler said. “That begins with building a department that reflects the values of our great state, that is diverse, well-trained, thoroughly prepared and is ready for any challenge.”
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The Senate committee held Butler’s nomination, along with a few others, for a subsequent voting session. Lawmakers noted during the discussion that Butler had received several letters of recommendation from law enforcement leaders across the state, along with dozens of written statements in opposition. Those were not made public.
Moore, a Democrat, nominated Butler more than a month ago, calling him a professional with the background, knowledge and character to lead the agency. Butler would be the first Black person to lead the state police, if confirmed by the full Senate, and is the sixth Black lieutenant colonel in the agency’s 102-year history.
On Monday, state senators acknowledged Butler had met personally with many of them, suggesting some behind-the-scenes discussions amid some criticism about Butler’s nomination. Critics have questioned the agency’s culture and Butler’s success in addressing those issues while in leadership positions.
Moore has stood by his selection, reiterating last week that Butler’s “three-decade career in the Maryland State Police makes him well-prepared to serve as superintendent and move the department forward.”
The governor met with the Coalition of Black Maryland State Troopers and Butler last week, which the group’s president, Sgt. Anthony Alexander, said went well. Alexander said the group talked about the governor’s vision for the agency and building a plan to address concerns about the state police.
“The governor is involved in making sure the department runs well. We trust him on that,” Alexander said. “We’re definitely going to work with him to get it done.”
He said priorities included rebuilding the agency’s culture and addressing concerns in recruiting, promotion, transfers and discipline.
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Carter Elliott, a spokesperson for Moore, said after the meeting that Butler “takes the suggestions provided by the troopers and other stakeholders seriously and knows their voices are critical to making much-needed changes.”
Butler echoed that sentiment in his remarks Monday, saying he would prioritize building trust and communication and visit troopers across the state to hear their concerns.
In response to questions about how concerns or issues didn’t reach him in his time as bureau chief, Butler said he would surround himself by “independent thinkers.”
Asked to respond to the idea that he was complacent while in leadership toward things that weren’t favorable toward Black officers, Butler said he disagreed with that assessment.
Groups like the Black troopers’ coalition had his phone number, Butler said, and could bring issues to his attention. He said he had the power to bring concerns or matters to his boss.
A date for the panel’s vote on Butler’s nomination has not been set.
Senators will decide in the coming days whether to move forward with the nomination, said Senate President Bill Ferguson, who added that he intends to support Butler if that vote occurs.
Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, told reporters Tuesday that other Democratic senators still have “very real and deep concerns” and it’s important for them to fully voice those concerns to the administration. If Butler’s nomination is rejected or withdrawn, Moore would make an interim appointment until the legislature reconvenes early next year, Ferguson said. If the Senate simply does not schedule a vote on the nomination, Ferguson said it’s unclear whether Butler could continue serving in an interim capacity.
Baltimore Sun reporter Sam Janesch contributed to this article.