Next police commissioner needs support of the community to be successful
Dec 03, 2018 | 1:05 PM
Joel Fitzgerald the police commissioner in Forth Worth, Texas is the candidate chosen by Mayor Catherine Pugh as a possible police commissioner for Baltimore.
What does Baltimore want a selection process for police commissioner to look like? Every major decision made by the city should start with such a broad, strategic examination of the decision-making process, with an eye toward transparency and stakeholder engagement (“Scrutiny for a Baltimore police chief nominee is nothing new,” Nov. 30). The considerable angst and skepticism we’re seeing from the public around this confirmation speaks to the public’s lack of buy-in around the larger process.
Angst and skepticism are most effectively addressed by transparency. In reflecting on the selection process thus far, I’ve seen little serious engagement with the public regarding how the confirmation should unfold. The public conversation has certainly not advanced to a point where a feedback process has been established that citizens are comfortable with. I’m not speaking just about the specific City Council confirmation process, but instead of the broader community context within which this confirmation will be made. As a private citizen watching this unfold from the sidelines, it feels both as if the city is in a state of disarray over this confirmation, and as if the public has been handed a black box and unfairly told to expect transparency, accountability, and positive outcomes. The City Council should seize the moment and lead the charge. We are currently seeing brave but independent and uncoordinated attempts by solitary councilmen to judge the candidate; a full process to solicit public feedback continues to be lacking (“Where do Baltimore City Council members stand on Joel Fitzgerald, Mayor Catherine Pugh's police commissioner pick?” Nov. 30).
This is all coming to a head with the naming of a preferred candidate by the mayor and a very real timeline for confirmation. There’s a lot at stake; three or four police commissioners in one year is too many, a huge embarrassment for the city, and severely jeopardizes public safety; we need this next commissioner to stick. It’s not too late for the city council to work together and change the course of this confirmation. I propose the following steps: hold public forums in each city council district and give citizens the opportunity to provide public comment on the characteristics they’re looking for in a commissioner and the questions they’d like candidates to answer; using these public forums, develop a public list of the characteristics and questions the city council will refer to when examining Fitzgerald or another candidate. These first two steps can and should take place prior to the appointment of a commissioner by the mayor. Finally, hold a separate series of public forums during which Fitzgerald or a future candidate can respond to questions from the public. Only then should the City Council vote on the candidate.
Votes should be clearly tied to the list of questions and characteristics developed by the City Council with the assistance of the people. Council people who vote yes or no with no clear explanation of how they arrived at this vote in relation to the established metrics should be held accountable for the thoughtlessness of their decision-making during the next election. Our representatives are not elected to be experts on all issues. Instead, strong leaders acknowledge their lack of expertise — and the public’s desire to provide input — and ask for the assistance of experts and the public when making serious strategic decisions.
There are many voices in this city with expertise on policing, a vision for the relationship they’d like to see between police and the public, or at a minimum, valid concerns with policing broadly. The mayor and City Council should want to hear these voices, and should seek buy-in from the public on the confirmation process. For the next commissioner to be successful they will need the support of our community, so that they may be able to have open dialogue and rapport with the city to bring crime under control and when new policing challenges arise (and they will). It makes no sense to rush this process, or to confirm the commissioner under conditions not established by and acceptable to the citizens of Baltimore City.