City police training academy director, appointed this week, to retire

Just three days after being touted as the commander who would oversee reforms in the wake of a training shooting, the new head of the Baltimore Police academy informed top brass Friday that he intends to leave the agency.

Maj. Joseph E. Smith III, a 25-year veteran, told the police commissioner that he planned to retire from the department and take an outside job, according to a police spokesman. Smith could not be reached for comment.

"He said it was too big of an opportunity to pass up," said chief spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. "It unfortunately comes at an inopportune time for the BPD."

Police moved swiftly to find a replacement, appointing 27-year veteran Lt. Col. Ross Buzzuro to the post. He is the fourth person to be named to the position in the past year. "We shouldn't miss a beat," Buzzuro said in a brief interview.

Word of the change came on the same day officials said the University of Maryland police trainee injured in the shooting had been released from Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Police said the incident took place when a training instructor mistook his service weapon for a paint-cartridge pistol during an unauthorized drill at the shuttered Rosewood Center for developmentally-disabled people.

On Tuesday, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts introduced Smith to reporters as the police academy resumed instructional operations. Smith had spent half his career at the training academy or internal affairs and said he was looking forward to reviewing the academy's operations.

Buzzuro said his only experience at the academy was when he went through as a recruit. But he is a respected commander with experience running the Northern District. Until Friday, he was overseeing the special operations section, which includes the department SWAT team. He also has served as ethics commander of the department's internal investigations section.

In 2011, Buzzuro helped render medical aid and save the life of a marathon runner who collapsed.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents parts of the Northern District, praised the choice of Buzzuro, calling him the "one of the finest district commanders I ever worked with in all my 24 years."

"Everything he does, he does methodically, professionally and with extreme seriousness," Clarke said. "He's the best I can think of to go and straighten out this training academy."

The Police Department has seen a lot of turnover with several key leadership changes since former Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III retired last year Clarke noted that such changes have been taking place throughout city government. Several high-ranking administration officials have left over the past year-and-a-half.

"It's a good thing we don't use Rolodexes anymore, because we'd have run out of cards," Clarke said, while noting that change "isn't a bad thing."

Smith's effective retirement date is in May, and he will help with the transition, Guglielmi said.

The training academy has gone through several directors. Bealefeld recruited Montgomery County official John King to lead the academy early last year, but King resigned after six months.

The next director, Maj. Eric Russell, was abruptly placed in the job after being moved from the Southwest District amid a spike in gun violence there. After the training shooting last week, Russell was suspended, though officials have said he did not know the exercise was taking place.

The budget for education and training was cut from $5.72 million in fiscal 2008 to $3.97 million from in fiscal year 2012, though it saw a bump to $5.3 million in the current fiscal year.

Smith's quick departure after being appointed to a high-profile post was reminiscent of 2010, when Maj. Scott Bloodsworth was appointed by Bealefeld to oversee reforms in the sex offense unit following The Baltimore Sun's report that showed police were not fully investigating many reported rapes. Within a week, Bloodsworth opted instead to retire.

The officer injured in the Rosewood shooting left Shock Trauma, but it was not clear whether the officer was transferred to another facility. Hospital officials said they could only confirm on Friday that they had discharged him, and University of Maryland Chief Antonio Williams said the family does not want additional details about his recovery released.

The unidentified officer, who officials have said is in his 40s, was participating in Baltimore police training exercises at the abandoned Rosewood Center for the developmentally disabled in Owings Mills.

Police have identified the shooter as 18-year veteran William Scott Kern. Law enforcement sources have told The Sun that the shot may have been fired outside of a training exercise.

Kern remains suspended while the Maryland State Police conduct an investigation that will be forwarded to Baltimore County's state's attorney for possible criminal charges.

Police said top training officials were unaware of the exercises. The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said city police didn't have permission to use the Rosewood Center. And Kern was carrying his service weapon though police safety standards prohibit loaded weapons being brought into training sessions.

"We had a major procedural breakdown in our systems, and we're working to correct those," Batts said earlier this week. "We're expanding this [review] to ensure we have proper protocols and we're serving this city in a constitutional way."

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin George contributed to this article.

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