After nearly a month of community meet-and-greets and roll calls with the rank-and-file, acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison will stand before a City Council committee Wednesday to answer questions and, if things go well, see his nomination sent to the full council for consideration.
Councilman Robert Stokes, chairman of the executive appointments committee, said he expects Harrison will easily garner the three votes he needs from the five-member committee to advance his nomination. That should set up a final confirmation vote as early as Monday.
“None of my colleagues have come to me and said they have concerns about his nomination,” Stokes said Tuesday.
Harrison was offered the post of Baltimore’s top cop — and a $275,000 salary with built-in raises — by Mayor Catherine Pugh after her previous nominee backed out in January. The position opened after Pugh’s first appointment, Darryl De Sousa, resigned in May in the face of federal tax charges.
Harrison retired as the superintendent of police in his hometown of New Orleans, after nearly three decades with that department, to take the Baltimore job. He started Feb. 11 in an acting capacity, and has been working crowds in the city ever since — including at community meetings in each of Baltimore’s nine police districts.
Stokes said he plans to vote in Harrison’s favor based on Harrison’s experience and reputation in New Orleans — where Stokes traveled to talk to residents and elected officials — and his “openness” in the last several weeks in Baltimore.
“We’re just looking forward to him being confirmed, to address some of the issues here,” Stokes said.
Other members of the committee stopped short of confirming their Wednesday votes, but said they, too, have been impressed.
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke has said she anticipates his approval not just by the committee, but by the full council. She described as “moot” a clause in his contract — approved by the Board of Estimates — that would pay him a year’s salary if the council rejects him.
Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer said it would take some sudden, unexpected surprise for him not to vote for Harrison.
“If the vote were held today, I would vote, ‘Yes,’” he said Tuesday. “Clearly, he fits what we are looking for, and I’m extremely optimistic that he is the right candidate that we need, and at the right time, with the right experience.”
Still, Schleifer said he has questions to put to Harrison. Schleifer last month released an unscientific survey that found some officers feel they lack adequate training and are restricted by the department’s federal consent decree mandating policing reforms. Schleifer said he plans to ask Harrison how he intends to address those issues.
“Obviously, ongoing training is a long-term thing that needs to happen, but effective communication channels within the department is something that can be done by the commissioner instantly,” he said.
Councilman Zeke Cohen said he was not “ready to commit” to voting one way or the other on Tuesday, as he is “still in the process of listening” to residents and has some questions of his own.
But he praised Harrison for being “extremely forthcoming” — which he said stood in contrast to Pugh’s last pick, Fort Worth, Texas, Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald, who withdrew his candidacy amid questions from the City Council and others about whether he was the right fit, as well as a serious illness in his family.
For instance, Cohen said that, when he asked for Harrison’s full background file, Harrison said, “I’ll give you anything you need. You can speak to anyone you want.” When he put the same question to Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald told him to “file a Freedom of Information request,” he said.
Cohen said the fact that Harrison has traveled around the city to meet with residents — something else Fitzgerald never did — puts Harrison in good standing ahead of the hearing, and will allow Cohen and the other committee members to focus on “his vision for really improving, reforming and making excellent” the police department moving forward.
Councilman Kristerfer Burnett said he likes to “hear the public testimony” at such hearings and “get feedback from folks not only in my district, but throughout the community,” before making his stance on a vote public.
But he, too, said he has “a lot of confidence” in Harrison’s ability to lead the department, in part based on the trip to New Orleans, which Burnett also attended.
Burnett said he intends to ask Harrison about a list of things, from his plan to “take robust action on internal reforms, whether that’s training or meeting the guidelines under the consent decree in a way that is as transparent as possible,” to his plan to tackle crime.
“Violence reduction is obviously at the very top of that list, as far as strategies go and the game plan,” Burnett said.
Members of the public will have a chance to comment on Harrison’s nomination at Wednesday’s hearing, as well.
Stokes said those who attend or sign up to speak will “respect each other’s opinions,” and be tossed out for “outbursts.” But he expects the hearing to “go pretty smooth” based on what he observed at the community meetings, he said.
“I went to most of them, and it's been mostly or all positive,” he said. “I have emails from residents who are asking me to support [Harrison] because they were very impressed.”