The Baltimore City Council on Monday approved the nomination of Richard Worley as Baltimore’s next police commissioner, over loud objections from activists in council chambers and in spite of reservations some expressed in Worley’s recent performance.
The 14-to-1 vote came after multiple council members raised concerns about issues that have arisen during Worley’s time as acting commissioner, which began in June when Mayor Brandon Scott announced the abrupt departure of now-former Commissioner Michael Harrison.
Council members were critical of Worley’s response to the heavily scrutinized Brooklyn Day mass shooting in July but also the department’s more recent handling of a pair of crimes in which a tech CEO was killed and another city woman raped and set ablaze.
The public became aware of a search for the suspect of both crimes only after the death of Pava LaPere in Mount Vernon. Police did not initially make public the attempted murder and rape in the other case, which involved a victim in the city’s Upton neighborhood. Jason Billingsley was arrested Wednesday and faces more than 30 charges related to both cases, including first-degree murder, assault, attempted murder, first-degree rape and arson charges.
Some council members expressed dismay at what they felt was victim-blaming on Worley’s part in reference to the Upton crime. Asked why the public wasn’t made aware of the rape and attempted murder, Worley said last week that the crime was not a random act.
“We know pretty much why he went into that house on Edmondson Avenue, why he committed those acts,” Worley said during a news conference Thursday. “He worked at that building. He was familiar with the victims. I’m not gonna say too much more because I don’t want to talk bad about victims, but he was there for a reason.”
Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, who ultimately voted yes, said Monday that he condemned “the remarks that were made about the victims” in the case by Worley, adding: “It can’t be tolerated. It’s the reason that we’re under consent decree, that sort of perspective on things.”
The sole no vote by a council member came from Councilwoman Phylicia Porter, who represents the Brooklyn Homes community where 30 people were shot, two fatally, in early July as the community came together for its annual Brooklyn Day block party.
Porter on Monday said she hoped her vote would be a “driving force behind monumental change in the Baltimore Police Department.”
A 25-year veteran of Baltimore Police, Worley has risen through its ranks since his start in 1998. Scott, who overlapped with Worley in the city’s Northeastern District while Scott served on the City Council, has praised that experience, arguing Worley is the homegrown solution the city needs.
Scott issued a statement following the vote congratulating Worley and Fire Chief James Wallace, who was also confirmed during Monday’s meeting. The vote on Wallace was unanimous.
“During my time in city government, I have seen firsthand the accountability, dedication, and hard work of these two public servants and their commitment to our great city,” Scott said. “Their wealth of experience and deep understanding of the ins-and-outs of their departments, as well as of the challenges that our city must address, make them the ideal leaders for these critical city agencies.”
Worley’s months leading the department as acting director were tumultuous from the start. The department has faced intense scrutiny for its actions leading up to and during the Brooklyn community’s annual block party, which turned deadly July 2. Thirty people were wounded, two fatally, in what is likely Baltimore’s largest mass shooting.
Since the shooting, Worley has admitted fault by police officers who he said should’ve known about the event, should’ve escalated it up the chain of command when they learned of it and should’ve called for police backup from elsewhere in the city.
Some of the activists present in chambers on Monday spoke at previous public hearings or town halls, voicing concern about the mayor’s selection. The group held signs that read “vote no on Worley” as members voted and exploded into shouts when the final vote became clear. Police escorted numerous people from the council chamber as Council President Nick Mosby banged a gavel.
The Baltimore NAACP, too, issued a statement ahead of the council vote with “profound concerns” about Worley’s selection. The group cited the response by the department to Billingsley, the Brooklyn Day shooting and the “recurring incidents” of criminal activity by officers.
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“The missteps, mistakes and miscalculations observed over recent months have had fatal and unacceptable consequences,” President Kobi Little said in the statement.
Mosby addressed the opposition following the vote, saying the varying viewpoints are what drove the council to take its time considering Worley. He noted that the Board of Estimates, which he chairs, delayed a vote on the commissioner’s contract in advance of the hearing.
“When you go down that path, you’re not going to have consensus 100% either way — particularly for something that’s so vital and important to us,” he said.
Worley, a native of Pigtown, was nominated in June in a surprise announcement, the same day that Harrison said he would leave his contract as the city’s top cop. Days earlier, members of the council had pressed Harrison about whether he would stay through his contract’s expiration in March.
Before serving as commander of the Northeastern District, Worley began as an officer in the Western District. He rose through the ranks to become deputy commissioner of operations and also served as chief of patrol and head of the department’s Criminal Investigations Division.
Disciplinary summaries released by the department show Worley has been dinged for traffic accidents, investigated for inappropriate workplace conduct (the allegation was not sustained) and was subject to a complaint from a woman who said her house was raided as a “form of intimidation” after she complained about drug dealing that she believed was taking place across her street. The latter was closed and labeled as a “duplicate case,” though the investigation into her original complaint is not included or summarized.
Worley’s proposed contract would run for three years, through June 2026, with a $285,000 annual salary and a guaranteed annual raise of at least 3%. Baltimore’s spending board last month deferred a decision on the contract and will likely consider it at a meeting Wednesday.