Latest Baltimore Police Chief Candidate Drops Bid Amid Relentless Turnover Baltimore is for a police commissioner job yet again. Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald was scheduled to have confirmation hearings on Monday but instead pulled his name from consideration.
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Latest Baltimore Police Chief Candidate Drops Bid Amid Relentless Turnover

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Latest Baltimore Police Chief Candidate Drops Bid Amid Relentless Turnover

Latest Baltimore Police Chief Candidate Drops Bid Amid Relentless Turnover

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And we have another story about government at work. We're talking about turnover at the top of police departments. In many major cities, it's high, but Baltimore is looking for its fourth chief in just a year. It's a tough job. The city has topped 300 homicides every year for the past four. Here's NPR's Brakkton Booker.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: First, a look back at how Baltimore got to this point. After years of mistrust between residents and Baltimore's cops, tensions ignited riots in 2015.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD SHOUTING)

BOOKER: The spark - Freddie Gray, a young black man who died of his injuries sustained while in police custody.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD SHOUTING)

BOOKER: The police commissioner during that time was later fired. In 2016, the Justice Department found the city's police routinely violated the civil rights of its residents and ordered changes. In 2017, homicides in Baltimore hit a per capita record - 343 deaths. So, by January 2018, Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh decided the police department needed new leadership again.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

CATHERINE PUGH: My decision is because I'm impatient. My decision is based on the fact that we need to get these numbers down.

BOOKER: Over the rest of 2018, things didn't get much better. Her next pick for the city's top cop lasted less than four months. That commissioner is now awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty for failing to pay years' worth of federal taxes. The current interim police commissioner took himself out of the running for the permanent job. Enter the mayor's next candidate, Joel Fitzgerald, the first black police chief in Fort Worth, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOEL FITZGERALD: Really an honor to be here, an honor to be a part of the process but also an honor to be ultimately the mayor's selection as a candidate for the police commissioner position.

BOOKER: Experts say the average tenure for police chiefs in many cities is about three to five years. But should Fitzgerald get the job, he'd be Baltimore's fourth police commissioner in the span of a year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FITZGERALD: I am committed to seeing this change process through.

BOOKER: Fitzgerald declined to be interviewed for this story. He was scheduled to have a confirmation hearing next week, but it was postponed due to a family emergency.

Lester Davis is spokesperson for the head of the Baltimore City Council.

LESTER DAVIS: This is a troubling time in Baltimore for policing, just like it is in a lot of areas around the country.

BOOKER: Davis is telling me all this not in Baltimore but in a church parking lot in Fort Worth, Texas, last month. Why? Several Baltimore City Council members traveled to Texas to conduct their own investigation into Fitzgerald.

DAVIS: Baltimore has a lot of work to do, and so we want to make sure that every stone is unturned

BOOKER: That work Davis is talking about has a lot to do with moving beyond the most recent scandal - a dozen cops convicted of building their own criminal enterprise. They stole large sums of money from Baltimore residents, sold drugs and committed other serious crimes. This week, the city council released transcripts of interviews conducted with community members, elected officials and police officers offering a mixed review of Fitzgerald's time in Fort Worth, including...

BETSY PRICE: Betsy Price, and I'm the mayor of Fort Worth.

BOOKER: And how long have you been mayor?

PRICE: Seven and a half years - a while.

BOOKER: Price says yes, it's been awkward having officials from another city poking around about her police chief. But she gets it, given all Baltimore has been through.

PRICE: They asked about what he had done, what successes he'd had, how was his relationships with his troops, how was this relationship with the community. I was impressed with their - they've done their due diligence.

BOOKER: Price praises Fitzgerald's leadership of the Fort Worth Police Department at a time when racial divisions reached a boiling point a few years ago. It happened after a video of a white police officer arresting a black mother and her two daughters went viral.

PRICE: Chief Fitzgerald came in at a very difficult time in Fort Worth. He's done a nice job handling that.

CHUCK WEXLER: You know, when a department is in trouble, traditionally, they will go outside.

BOOKER: That's Chuck Wexler. He heads the Police Executive Research Forum, which helped recruit candidates for the Baltimore job. He says videos of encounters between police and citizens can also have the opposite effect. Because of those videos, he says, there's been rapid turnover at the top of many police departments. Wexler says going outside often signals a new start.

WEXLER: An outside individual has the benefit of not having any relationships with anyone inside. But it's also the challenge of getting to know a department.

BOOKER: Leonard Hamm served more than 30 years in the Baltimore Police Department, including commissioner from 2004 to 2007. He says an outsider like Fitzgerald may not be what the city needs right now.

LEONARD HAMM: Someone coming from outside - it's going to take them at least three years to find out where streets are. And while that person is learning and finding out about the city, they still have to address these other issues - crime and all the rest of that stuff.

BOOKER: He says what residents ultimately want is for the killing to stop and for a police force they can trust.

Brakkton Booker, NPR News, Baltimore.

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