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Power to appoint Baltimore police commissioner once held by governor

The Baltimore Sun
Power to appoint Baltimore police commissioner used to lie with governor

When Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts and appointed an interim replacement, she executed a power that was once reserved for the governor of Maryland.

In fact, the power to appoint and remove the city's police commissioners was in the governor's hands for more than a century.

"The original state takeover of the power to appoint the city police commissioner came in 1860 after a decade of riotously corrupt city elections that saw massive illegal voting and the rise to power of a mayor and council belonging to the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Know-Nothing party," The Baltimore Sun reported in 1976.

In May 1976, Gov. Marvin Mandel signed legislation shifting the power back to the mayor — despite his personal opposition to the change.

"I still think the city is going to be the loser in the long run," Mandel said after signing the bill, according to news reports at the time.

The 1976 law gave the mayor the power to name a commissioner, albeit with a vote of confirmation from the City Council. The power of removal also shifted to the mayor, but the required reasons for termination — official misconduct, malfeasance, inefficiency and incompetence — remained the same, The Sun reported at the time.

The first mayoral appointment of a police commissioner in the 20th century maintained the status quo: Commissioner Donald D. Pomerleau was appointed by Mayor William Donald Schaefer to a third six-year term in 1978. After Pomerleau announced his early retirement in 1981, Schaefer appointed Deputy Commissioner Frank J. Battaglia to the post. Battaglia served from 1981 to 1984, before the mayor appointed the city's first African-American police commissioner, Bishop L. Robinson.

Rawlings-Blake will still need approval from the City Council to appoint a new commissioner. She did not need that approval to name Kevin Davis as interim commissioner, according to mayoral spokesman Kevin Harris.

Davis was hired as a deputy commissioner in January at a salary of $154,900. It hasn't been determined if that will change in his new role, Harris said.

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