Baltimore Police Commissioner Bealefeld to step down

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, the longest-serving commissioner in the city's recent history and who oversaw steep declines in the city's murder rate, is stepping down, the mayor's office announced.

Bealefeld's retirement date is effective August 1, the sources said, but he still stay on and oversee a transition. A senior aide to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Bealefeld informed of her of his decision today and said he wanted to spend more time with his family.

“Commissioner Bealefeld has been a great public servant for the people of Baltimore throughout his entire career in the Baltimore Police Department, and we owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.” Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. “While I am saddened to announce his retirement, I respect his decision to retire after decades of service to spend more time with his family. I know he loves the job and was proud to serve with honesty and integrity for these many years. He has been an extremely effective leader that we will miss, and we wish him the best retirement.”

Bealefeld could not immediately be reached for comment.

In a statement issued by the mayor's office, he said: “I want to thank Mayor Rawlings-Blake and the citizens of Baltimore for allowing me the opportunity to serve. This was a very tough decision for me and for my family, but it’s now the right time for me to bring my career with the Baltimore Police Department to a close. I am very proud of the men and women of the BPD for all that we have been able to accomplish together over the last five years, and I am looking forward to enjoying retirement with my family and close friends.”

Bealefeld was appointed by then-Mayor Sheila Dixon in 2007, amid an upswing that had murders in Baltimore headed towards more than 300 for the first time since the 1990s. But the city was able to stem the killings, and during Bealefeld's nearly five-year tenure, the murder count dipped below 200 for the first time since the 1970s. He also publicly disavowed "zero tolerance" policing policies, and arrests in Baltimore - which peaked at 110,000 in 2005 - were less than 50,000 last year.

He joined the Baltimore Police Department in 1981, dropping out of Anne Arundel Community College after a broken collarbone dashed his hopes of earning a lacrosse scholarship. He followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, who once walked a beat along Greenmount Avenue, and a great-uncle, who was killed in the line of duty.

Bealefeld became known for his blunt speaking style - calling criminals "knuckleheads" and "morons" - and coining the term "bad guys with guns" to describe the city's focus on eliminating gun offenders. 

He prioritized training initiatives, creating a program called "Diamond Standard Training" to continuously re-educate officers together in shifts. He also recently recruited two outsiders to oversee training and Internal Affairs. 

But he also had to navigate the department through some of its toughest chapters, including the fatal accidental shooting of an officer by fellow officers outside the Select Lounge. An independent commission was appointed to review the case and recommend reforms, which the agency is working to implement. 

The announcement that Bealefeld would be stepping down caught many off-guard. He attended a community meeting earlier this week, and appeared at a news conference Wednesday with Rawlings-Blake to install a new surveillance camera in Northeast Baltimore. 

In late December, asked about his future, Bealefeld didn't say whether he intended to stay on for the forseeable future. 

"Look," he said. "The past year has been tough. You talk about Select Lounge. I lost a great friend; my father just passed away. It's been a very, very difficult year," he said, before turning the conversation to cultivating a new generation of leaders for the department.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein said Bealefeld will go down as “one of the best police commissioners” the city has ever had.

“He’s been a tremendous public servant and he is a person who really lived and breathed Baltimore, and he gave it his all. He worked that job 24/7, and he was fully committed to trying to make Baltimore a safer place,” Bernstein said.

“I think through sheer dint of will and effort, he greatly improved the effectiveness of the Baltimore Police Department, and I think that the statistics bear that out in terms of the drop in crime, and I think he deserves a large amount of the credit for that,” Bernstein continued. “I think that the citizens of Baltimore owe him a great debt of gratitude and respect.”


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