With Fitzgerald out, some top candidates remain interested in becoming next Baltimore Police commissioner

As the search continues for the next Baltimore police commissioner, a job many observers have called one of the most difficult in law enforcement, several candidates continue to express interest in the job.

Joel Fitzgerald, Mayor Catherine Pugh’s pick to become the city’s next police commissioner, withdrew from consideration Monday, creating more uncertainty for the police department, which has faced numerous troubles this past year. Pugh said in a post on Twitter that she supported Fitzgerald’s decision to withdraw, and that Interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle will remain on the job.

Fitzgerald’s decision comes at a critical time as the police department moves toward implementing reforms required under a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department. At the same time, the city has seen more than 300 homicides a year since 2015.

The city received 51 applications for the job, which a search team narrowed to a list of six candidates, including Fitzgerald and Tuggle.

Tuggle, a former Drug Enforcement Administration official appointed interim commissioner by Pugh after Commissioner Darryl De Sousa resigned last May, had said he wanted the top job permanently, but then withdrew from consideration in October. Tuggle said previously he couldn’t make the five- to seven-year commitment he thought would be necessary to address the department’s many challenges.

It’s unclear whether Fitzgerald’s withdrawal from the process will change Tuggle’s mind. A police spokesman did not respond to requests to speak to Tuggle on Monday.

Among the remaining finalists, Kevin Ward, the recently retired chief of staff to former New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton, told The Sun on Monday that he remains interested in the Baltimore job.

“I’d still be interested in the position,” he said.

Ward said the process that played out with Fitzgerald is not uncommon for large cities who are looking to fill the critical role.

“It’s a big decision. When you do a national search, there’s a lot involved. This happens in a lot of big cities. It doesn’t’ surprise me that sometimes there’s bumps in the road,” he said.

Ward said he sees a lot of opportunity in Baltimore, noting the city’s proximity to Washington D.C., the port, and its economic growth.

“It has a lot of great potential,” he said.

Ward compared Baltimore to Brooklyn, describing how the New York borough has grown, which no one would have imagined 20 years ago, he said.

“I see the same potential in Baltimore. We had crime similar to Baltimore. I see how effective police work can really have a difference. I know it can be done, I’ve been a part of the process,” Ward said.

Ward also said he saw the federal mandates required by the consent decree as a means to bring about positive, substantial change that will bring down crime.

Ward said he interviewed for the job before, but declined to say whether he spoke to anyone recently.

Tuggle is not the only internal candidate who had applied for the job.

Melvin Russell, deputy police commissioner, was previously interviewed by the panel. Reached by phone Monday, Russell said he is still interested in the job.

“I have a lot to offer to Baltimore,” he said.

Russell said he would support whoever the mayor and city council choose.

Ed Jackson, inspector general for the Baltimore Police Department, said previously he met with the panel set up to interview the key candidates.

He declined to say Monday whether he’s vying for the job.

“I don’t want to comment right now. It would be premature,” Jackson said. “I’m still inspector general. My total focus is on the [inspector general’s] office. We have a lot of work to do right now,” he said.

Here are others who either applied or were considered during the first search, according to previous reporting from The Baltimore Sun:

» New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison: A panel of police executives who met with top possibilities recommended Harrison — even though he hadn’t applied for the job.

Harrison told The Sun previously he had been asked “to participate in discussions” about his “potential interest” in the position by “those assisting the city of Baltimore in their search,” and was “humbled to be sought after” for the job. But ultimately, he said he asked not to not be considered for the position because of his commitment to the New Orleans department.

He did not respond to a request for comment sent through a New Orleans Police spokesman Monday.

» Sabrina Tapp-Harper: A top commander and spokeswoman in the Baltimore sheriff’s office, Tapp-Harper publicly said she submitted her name for the job in June. Sources said she also met with the panel of police executives. She said Monday that she is still interested in the job but declined to comment further.

Baltimore Sun reporters Ian Duncan and Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

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