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As Baltimore City Council members leave for Fort Worth this week, what will they learn about Joel Fitzgerald?

Baltimore City Council members are in Fort Worth, Texas, this week to learn more about its police chief, Joel Fitzgerald, who is Mayor Catherine Pugh’s pick to be the city’s next police commissioner.

The council members might encounter critics who say Fitzgerald has exacerbated tensions between cops and the community, but also supporters who say he has helped bring about cultural change in the department.

“I’m a believer in the cultural shift he is making here in Fort Worth,” said the Rev. Dr. Kyev Tatum, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Fort Worth. He said he and other community leaders have expressed their support for Fitzgerald to the Fort Worth mayor and city council members.

But the Rev. Michael Bell, pastor of Greater St. Stephen First Church in Fort Worth, has said his city needs a new police chief.

"I do know we have a community that is against this police chief," he told Dallas-Fort Worth station NBC 5 last week.

Bell has previously told The Sun that Fitzgerald has failed to hold officers accountable, choosing in one case to fire an officer accused of shooting an unarmed man only after charges had been brought against him.

“Joel has an unwillingness to dismiss even rogue officers,” Bell said. “I’m glad he’s gone.”

Until Fitzgerald is approved by the Baltimore City Council, he remains the Fort Worth police chief.

Baltimore City Council members and staff traveling to Fort Worth plan to interview community leaders. Council members have called for more information about Fitzgerald’s background and any vetting the mayor’s team has conducted. This week, the council released his resume. They also plan to hold two days of public hearings on Fitzgerald.

A final vote on Fitzgerald’s nomination isn’t scheduled until at least mid-January.

When asked about whether the city of Forth Worth has begun searching for a replacement, Laken Avonne Rapier, a spokeswoman for Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, said she did not have any updates.

“We don’t have anything new on our end,” she said.

Price is among those expected to meet with Baltimore City Council members next week.

Fitzgerald, 47, has said he wants the Baltimore job, and promises to stay for the long haul.

“All I want is stability and being able to see this through,” he has said. “I am willing to stay and be there for a long period of time.”

The city has had three police commissioners this year. Former Police Commissioner Kevin Davis was fired in January. His replacement, agency veteran Darryl De Sousa, resigned in May after being charged with failing to file federal taxes. Gary Tuggle, who was one of De Sousa’s deputies, has been serving as interim commissioner since May.

In the meantime, Fitzgerald is still out in the community in Fort Worth. Pastor Kenneth Jones Jr., with the Como First Missionary Baptist Church, said Fitzgerald led a “procedural justice presentation in our community Thursday night. It’s business as usual.”

Jones, who said he would also like to see Fitzgerald stay in Fort Worth, said Baltimore officials have not reached out to him, but he would assure them that Fitzgerald has proved himself to be a capable leader.

“It’s known as ‘cowtown’ but it’s a metropolitan city,” he said. “Fort Worth will prepare you.”

Jones and Tatum said Fitzgerald’s move to Baltimore would be a loss for their city. They cited many reforms that have come under Fitzgerald’s leadership, including increased public transparency, community engagement, and deep cultural changes within the department.

Tatum and Jones said they and other community leaders want Fitzgerald to stay, even though they did not always see eye to eye.

Tatum said he and others were angry with Fitzgerald’s response last year to a controversial video that captured a confrontation between Jacqueline Craig and Fort Worth police officer William Martin. Craig had called police after she said her neighbor allegedly grabbed and choked her 7-year-old son. But rather than de-escalating the situation, many accused the officer of racism.

Fitzgerald, Tatum said, did not properly address the incident.

“The city did absolutely nothing about it. We were a powder keg,” Tatum said.

Fitzgerald has said he learned from the experience. “When something like this happens, I think I need to do a better job of getting right into the community and making sure that they understand where we’re coming from, what happened, and getting an explanation right from my mouth,” Fitzgerald told The Dallas Morning News last January.

After the video surfaced, Tatum said he had an opportunity to sit down with Fitzgerald, who spoke of the vision he had for changing the culture of the Fort Worth police department.

Fitzgerald created a police policy advisory committee, allowing citizens and officers to sit down and review general orders. Community leaders were also briefed on high-profile cases.

“I witnessed the culture shift,” Tatum said. “He needs to stay right here in Fort Worth and finish the job.”

jkanderson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/janders5

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