Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke talks about Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald
Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald has withdrawn his name from consideration for the Baltimore’s police commissioner job, citing an outpouring of support from Fort Worth residents and colleagues and a family medical emergency.
He did so in a series of tweets Monday on the Fort Worth Police Department Twitter account.
Fitzgerald said the decision to withdraw from the Baltimore process was prompted by the tremendous outpouring of support he received from the Fort Worth community. He also wants to spend more time with his 13-year-old son, who is having a second brain surgery Tuesday after an initial surgery Friday, according to police.
“Our community communicated this to me, even before this medical emergency occurred with my son, but it was reinforced thereafter knowing there was a possibility I could leave,” the statement said. “Their support never wavered and may have intensified.
“There is literally nowhere I go in this city of almost 900,000 residents where someone doesn’t approach me to say first, ‘Hey Chief, your Eagles stink, and by the way, you’re still needed and loved here in Fort Worth.’ I will now focus on my child’s next bout of brain surgery, and being home with family, my Fort Worth Police Department family ... and this awesome community.”
Monday morning an email went out to police department employees announcing that the chief had withdrawn his name from consideration for the Baltimore job.
Baltimore’s Mayor Catherine Pugh released a statement of her own moments before Fitzgerald’s statement, saying that she respected his decision to withdraw his name from consideration in order to devote his attention to his son. Pugh said she and Fitzgerald discussed the recent medical issues concerning his son and the upcoming surgery to remove a mass that was discovered late last week.
“Our fervent prayers are with him and his family during what is unquestionably a troubling and stressful period for them,” Pugh’s statement said. “In the meantime, Interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle is on the job and very ably managing the day-to-day affairs of the Baltimore Police Department, along with his command staff. I will, of course, be communicating further on the process to select Baltimore’s permanent Police Commissioner.”
Fitzgerald was scheduled to undergo a confirmation hearing where he would have been asked questions by members of the Baltimore City Council. A hearing last Monday was postponed because of the family emergency.
The NAACP requested this past week that the mayor’s nomination be withdrawn after The Baltimore Sun found that Fitzgerald overstated some of his accomplishments in Allentown and Fort Worth on his résumé.
Fitzgerald failed to tell the entire story when he claimed to have reduced crime rates in Fort Worth, according to reporting from The Baltimore Sun and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Overall crime dropped 5.5 percent and the rate for serious offenses fell 8 percent from 2015 to 2017, the most recent year data is available, according to Fort Worth crime reports.
But FBI data show that decline was fueled largely in decreases in thefts and burglaries. Crime rate data from 2016 and 2017, the two full years of Fitzgerald’s tenure, show overall violent crime rose about 6 percent, the homicide rate was up 9 percent and aggravated assaults increased almost 8 percent. Data for 2018 has not been released.
In his résumé for the Baltimore job, Fitzgerald also said he initiated “the largest active Body Worn Camera program in Texas,” which he claims he launched. Fort Worth was one of the first North Texas cities to use body cameras, but the program was piloted in 2010 and has been expanded annually since 2011, before Fitzgerald arrived, according to Star-Telegram archives and a presentation from the department available on the U.S. Justice Department’s website.
The program is also not the largest. In Houston 2,650 cameras are worn by 4,491 officers, a Houston city spokeswoman told The Sun. Fort Worth has about 1,700 officers.
In Allentown, Fitzgerald touted his expansion of the police and fire 911 services and the city’s camera system. He served as the city’s chief from December 2012 until he moved to Fort Worth in October 2015.
Former Allentown Assistant Chief Dan Warg told The Morning Call the physical 911 facility did not expand during Fitzgerald’s tenure. He worked as the department’s liaison to the 911 Center before Fitzgerald’s arrival. While the surveillance camera network expanded under Fitzgerald, the program began before his arrival, Warg said.
Fitzgerald claimed about a 25 percent increase in cameras during his time in Allentown, which the Morning Call reported as accurate. Allentown was not the first Pennsylvania city to initiate a body camera program, as Fitzgerald claims on his résumé, the Morning Call reported.
The city’s program started under Fitzgerald in 2015 with about 10 officers in the pilot program, but Richland Township in Bucks County, near Philadelphia, was already using body cameras in 2014.
Staff writers Luke Ranker, Nichole Manna and Deanna Boyd contributed to this report.