“We do believe the machine we built can go further and decrease crime,” said Micheal Harrison. (Kevin Rector)
Baltimore’s spending board approved a 5-year contract for the incoming police commissioner Wednesday, backing a deal that gives him valuable perks and a much higher salary than his predecessors but also makes him easier to fire.
Michael Harrison, who Mayor Catherine Pugh selected to run the Police Department last month, would make $275,000 a year with raises of 3 percent each year. And his raises could be even larger if he meets goals to drive down crime, according to a copy of his contract the mayor’s office released after the Board of Estimates vote.
The deal also provides Harrison, who is set to begin Monday as acting commissioner, with a measure of protection should the City Council reject his nomination. It guarantees him a year’s pay if he’s voted down. Some council members said Wednesday that they were troubled by that provision.
“The contract is a good contract,” Pugh said in an interview. “I think that Michael Harrison is a great candidate for Baltimore city. I think all roads point in his direction.”
The salary is a big bump above what previous commissioners have been paid. Darryl De Sousa, the last Baltimore police commissioner with a contract, had an annual salary of $210,000. Harrison also will be collecting a six-figure pension as former chief of police in New Orleans.
“$275,000 is not that much money to pay someone to come here and try to make the changes we need in Baltimore city,” Young said. “My expectation is he will come in and — not that you can do it all in one day or one week — put strategies in place to reduce the violence.”
Harrison will take the helm at a department struggling to fight violent crime while also trying to implement civil rights reforms designed to stamp out discriminatory policing.
He’ll also be stepping into a department that has been without permanent leadership since May, when De Sousa quit after being charged with failing to file federal tax returns. Gary Tuggle was promoted to acting commissioner and has been serving in that role, but he withdrew from the competition for the permanent job and has not had a contract. Pugh nominated Fort Worth, Texas, Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald as the next commissioner, but he withdrew after his son suffered a medical emergency.
Harrison’s contract does not spell out what crime reduction goals he would have to meet to earn raises, saying only that his pay would be based on “attainment of objective crime-reduction metrics and subjective personal performance factors.”
Michael Harrison will start work as Baltimore's police commissioner with a much more generous contract than the past three leaders of the police department, guaranteeing him a far higher salary, raises and other perks. But the deal also makes it easier a mayor to fire Harrison.
“The council has an important role to play in this process and our vote should be final,” Cohen said.
Despite those concerns, there have been no indications of any opposition to Harrison, and Young said he expects the council to confirm him.
“We need a leader in place,” Young said.
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who sits with Cohen on the committee, had opposed Pugh’s plan of having Fitzgerald work in an acting capacity. She said waiting to install Fitzgerald would have given the council more freedom to vote to reject him, if its members had wanted to do so. But on Wednesday, she said the provision granting Harrison a paycheck even if he’s voted down ultimately won’t matter.
“That’s a moot portion of the contract,” she said. “He sounds good, and we’re ready for good.”
Harrison’s salary would make him the third-highest paid member of Pugh’s cabinet. School system CEO Sonja Santelises makes about $300,000, paid out of the school system budget, and Visit Baltimore CEO Al Hutchinson earns $312,000.
The contract includes several provisions that De Sousa and Harrison’s other two predecessors dating back to 2012 did not enjoy.
On top of relocation expenses, it provides Harrison a $3,000 a month housing allowance for a year or until his current home is sold. Previously commissioners only received moving expenses.
The contract also sets the terms for Harrison to build an executive team, allowing him to hire a chief of staff and as many as eight other senior commanders.
If Harrison is fired without cause, he would be paid the balance of the contract in bi-weekly installments, minus any income he earns from a new job. That could be more lucrative than the lump-sum deals his predecessors agreed to.
But the agreement also expands the grounds on which the mayor could fire Harrison without having to pay him out.
The last three commissioners with contracts could only be ousted for dereliction of duty, serious issues related to alcohol or drug use, or serious criminal charges. Harrison’s contract includes other grounds for termination, including violations of city policy and anything the city believes harms the Police Department’s reputation or “calls into question his moral character.”