Baltimore mayor: new police chief, new beginning

Since becoming Baltimore’s 50th mayor nearly two years ago, I have been clear about my commitment to reduce violence in our city and create a police force that reflects 21st century, constitutional and community-based policing. We have no more urgent task or responsibility. Without question, we have made measurable progress. The Department of Justice Consent Decree provides a clear roadmap for reforming our police department. Also without question, there are challenges that we must overcome to make ours the police department we need and know it can become. Our Violence Reduction Initiative and partnership with grassroots organizations through our “Call to Action” network are proving effective in disrupting the cycle of violence and providing much-needed intervention in the lives most at risk.

Yet, I realize this progress does not come fast enough nor in sufficient proportion to mitigate the tragic effects of too many shootings, too many lives lost to senseless violence. As I continue to assert: One life lost to violence in our city is one life too many.

Today, I am announcing a new beginning at police headquarters and presenting the person I believe is best suited to lead the way forward. With the selection of Joel Fitzgerald as the next police commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department, I am convinced that we have a unique opportunity to build on our progress to reduce violence and accelerate our efforts to create a safer city and re-establish community trust in those sworn to protect and serve. Since 2015, Commissioner-designate Fitzgerald has been the chief of police of Fort Worth, Texas — one of the nation’s largest police forces and in the country’s 12th largest city. He has been responsible for leading over 1,700 sworn officers and 500 civilian employees, and managing an annual budget of $300 million.

Joel Fitzgerald, 47, and a married father of three, began his career in 1992 with the Philadelphia Police Department, where he served faithfully and with consistent distinction for over 17 years. For the past 10 years, he has served as a police chief, first in Missouri City, Texas, and then in Allentown, Pa., until assuming his current position with the Fort Worth Police Department in 2015. Community engagement has been central to his approach throughout his long and respected career. He is known for his hands-on approach, his ability to listen and establish effective, trusted partnerships with community leaders, residents and essential stakeholders who are also working to bring about positive and sustainable change.

On more than one occasion during our extensive discussions, Commissioner-designate Fitzgerald has made clear his belief that the power to police others and enforce law is a power that comes not from government but the people of the community. It requires trust on both sides and compromise in pursuit of mutual understanding. It requires knowing one another and working together toward a common purpose. This is Joel Fitzgerald’s philosophy and approach. It is also a requirement of the Department of Justice Consent Decree with regard to Community Policing and Engagement that we are working to implement. And it is why I concluded that he is the best person at this time and in this place to lead our police department forward.

In each of his leadership positions, Commissioner-designate Fitzgerald has established a reputation as a reformer and “disrupter” of the status quo. He has motivated the officers under his command to adapt to new approaches and new technologies, and he has promoted continuous learning among the rank and file alike. Requiring de-escalation training for all sworn officers of his current department, Commissioner-designate Fitzgerald understands that use of force is not always the most appropriate or necessary option to restoring order. During his tenure in Fort Worth, he has established and maintained model policies and procedures throughout the department, which have been recognized as “best practices” among leading law enforcement agencies across Texas and beyond.

I fully understand the intense interest in the process to select our new police commissioner. It has been my determination all along to get this right. We have taken the necessary time and engaged in extensive deliberation to narrow the field of candidates who applied from across the nation and locally. I can assure all citizen stakeholders that the process has been thorough and inclusive of broad input gained from near-constant discussions with community organizers, business, education and foundation leaders, national advocacy groups, other elected officials, our own police officers, ministers and neighborhood residents about the type of person and skill set most desired and required to lead Baltimore’s Police Department at this critical time. The process will now transition to community engagement and further review prior to the City Council’s public confirmation hearings. I have every confidence that Commissioner-designate Fitzgerald will reconfirm the reasons that have led to his selection.

There are few things more essential to the health and vitality of a city than the peace of mind of its residents, and that can only come with peace and safety in their streets. I am convinced that the broad-based community approach we have adopted to deal in real-time with the issues that fuel crime and violence is the right one. Moreover, new investments in 21st century technologies are providing our officers with the necessary tools and advantages they require and have long deserved. Accelerating our recruitment efforts to attract and retain an increasing number of emotionally and mentally mature men and women who will become solution-oriented community officers is among our highest priorities. Leadership at police headquarters that is tested, accomplished and sustained is what we need and what we are determined to bring about.

Joel Fitzgerald is the person, in my view, to now lead Baltimore’s police department into a new era of credibility, accountability and trust. I hope that you will give him the full and fair hearing he deserves as he works to earn your confidence as he has earned mine.

Catherine E. Pugh, a Democrat, is the mayor of Baltimore. She can be reached at mayor@baltimorecity.gov.

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