Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday that she isn’t guaranteeing she’ll nominate a new police commissioner by the end of the month, despite her and senior members of her team’s saying they wanted a candidate picked by Halloween.
“I'm not going to be rushed into this process,” Pugh said at an event at Lexington Market. “I set a goal of trying to name a commissioner by the end of October. I can tell you we are vetting, and we have some names that are out there we are vetting, and I’d love to be close to do that.”
“I never set hard deadlines,” the mayor added. “Even when I'm running a race, I want to finish at a certain time. If I go lower than that time, yay. If I go above that time, I'm going to be pretty close.”
The mayor said she has whittled the candidates down to a shortlist, but wouldn't say how many people remain in the running, other than that they are “very, very few.”
The city has been without a permanent police commissioner since May, when Pugh’s previous pick, Darryl De Sousa, resigned after being charged with failing to file tax returns. The new commissioner will be the Police Department’s fourth leader just this year.
City Hall officials and outsiders alike have emphasized the importance of picking a strong leader who can stabilize the Police Department, carry out sweeping civil rights reforms required by a federal court decree, and tackle crime, as Baltimore continues to face near-record levels of violence.
Councilman Brandon Scott, the chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said had not expected the mayor to be able to meet the end of October deadline. Scott said the mayor has to both ensure she has a leader in place who can craft a plan to fight violence while also being completely confident that her pick is the best person for the job — a balancing act Scott described as “hurry up and get it right.”
“Violence is not going away and leadership is necessary to put plans in place,” he said.
On Monday evening, Pugh summoned commanders at the rank of major and above to City Hall to take their pulses about Baltimore's crime fight.
Two people at the meeting said she also asked the commanders whether they wanted a commissioner from within or from outside the department. She had told WBAL-TV last week that, “The folks who have bubbled up to the top are from the outside.” The timing of her request Monday for input raised questions about how much progress she has made in the selection process. The sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said reactions were split between wanting an outsider with fresh eyes versus someone familiar with the city.
A spokesman for the mayor did not respond Wednesday to questions about that portion of the meeting.
The mayor's team has been searching for a candidate since De Sousa’s abrupt departure, but has been criticized for running a less-than-transparent process — the outlines of which have shifted.
Pugh initially said there would be a public dimension to the search and that a seven-member group would aid her in drawing up the shortlist. City Solicitor Andre Davis has since said that no formal group exists, but that three outside consultants are involved in the selection.
Officials have also been saying since the summer that they expected to have a candidate named by Oct. 31. In July, Davis assured a federal judge overseeing the civil rights decree between the Police Department and federal authorities that a new commissioner would be in place by the end of October. Then, at a news conference Oct. 3, Pugh was asked about where the process stood and said, “I expect to have someone named by the end of the month.” She repeated that assurance last week.
Officials have said some 50 people applied, but have declined to name candidates or finalists. Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle, a veteran Drug Enforcement Administration agent, applied but withdrew this month, saying he could commit to staying in the post for the five to seven years he thinks is necessary to turn the department around.
A spokeswoman for the mayor of Fort Worth previously confirmed that city’s police chief, Joel Fitzgerald, interviewed for the Baltimore job. Pugh has declined to discuss his candidacy and it’s not clear whether he’s on the short list.
Once Pugh names a candidate, he or she will need the approval of the City Council. Council leaders have promised a thorough review that will include sending a delegation to the city where the candidate currently works.
Ray Kelly, the chief executive of activist group No Boundaries Coalition, said he was also not surprised by the timeline for naming a commissioner seeming to slip and said the public already has little trust in city leaders to make the right decision.
Kelly criticized the opacity of the process, saying it runs counter to the spirit of the civil rights decree, which calls for the Police Department to be more open with the public.
“The whole city is demanding someone tell us what is going on,” Kelly said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.