Fort Worth Police chief takes job in Baltimore
A Baltimore delegation tasked with vetting Fort Worth police chief Joel Fitzgerald for the top policing job there heard conflicting reports on his time in Texas.
Jacqueline Craig, whose 2016 arrest spurred outrage nationally, called Fitzgerald “a bag of garbage” as black community leaders and officers criticized Fitzgerald’s handling of race relations in Fort Worth.
But Lt. Roy Hudson, a former leader of the black police officers organization, and another group told Baltimore interviewers that Fitzgerald made strides mending relationships between the department and citizens.
The traveling delegation, led by Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, met with Fort Worth leaders for three days in December. A transcript of their interviews was released Tuesday. In addition to Craig and black community leaders, the group spoke with Mayor Betsy Price and city council members and current and former police officers.
“I hate to see him go,” Price said of Fitzgerald. “He stepped in at a time that was really difficult.”
Price and other senior leaders generally gave positive reviews of Fitzgerald’s time in Fort Worth, noting he faced challenges to change police culture and community relations from the beginning of his tenure in October 2015.
The interviews tell little about how Fort Worth may have prepared Fitzgerald for policing in Baltimore, a high-crime city known for its struggle to build trust between the police and the community. Instead they paint a picture of vastly different views on Fitzgerald’s leadership. Though the delegation talked to more than 30 people, the transcript shows a handful dominated discussions.
The transcript notes Fitzgerald approached Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke and Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa for a pay raise, but none was granted. Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is considering paying Fitzgerald $260,000 a year, The Baltimore Sun reported. He is paid about $217,000 in Fort Worth.
On the delegation’s last day in Fort Worth, a group, including Craig and former police Sgt. Kevin Fitchett, said Fitzgerald had failed to mend ties between the police department and minority communities.
Craig was arrested with her two daughters in December 2016 after she had called police to resolve a dispute with a neighbor. The confrontation that ensued was captured on video, which sparked outrage and complaints of excessive force. Craig told the visitors that Fitzgerald never contacted her to personally apologize for the officer’s actions and instead insisted on her prosecution.
Asked by the Baltimore visitors about her opinion of Fitzgerald and his handling of her situation, Craig said, “I think Fitzgerald is a bag of garbage.”
Her family remains afraid to call Fort Worth police.
“When you have to deal with that and you can’t even give your kids peace, I don’t understand the purpose of life anymore,” Craig told the delegation, according to the transcript.
But some said Fitzgerald has worked to improve police relations and tackle racial bias.
Hudson, the lieutenant and former black officers association leader, said Fitzgerald “turned our department around as far as community relations.” His account of Fitzgerald’s leadership remained positive, noting the chief’s emphasis on community policing, efforts to hold officers accountable and attempts to build strong relationships with the community.
Fitchett, the retired sergeant, said in his interview that he wasn’t convinced Fitzgerald had made improvements. He believed the chief largely relied on the work of others.
“He continued stuff that was going on already, but he had to because it was working,” Fitchett said.
The Baltimore council is set to vote Monday on Fitzgerald’s appointment to police commissioner. Community events are scheduled this week in Baltimore for people to meet Fitzgerald. He would replace Darryl De Sousa, who resigned a few months after he was charged with failing to file federal tax returns.
Mayor Pugh hired a firm of private investigators to conduct its review of Fitzgerald’s background, including interviews with people who have worked with him, The Baltimore Sun reported.