Fort Worth

Report: Fort Worth chief overstates police résumé in Baltimore application

Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald overstated his Fort Worth achievements in a résumé he submitted during his application for Baltimore police commissioner, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said Thursday she would postpone community meetings with Fitzgerald, according the newspaper, citing a family medical emergency.

Fitzgerald, chief since October 2015, billed himself as an efficient crime fighter focused on transparency and community engagement, but The Sun reported elements of his résumé were exaggerated.

A Fort Worth Police spokesman told The Star-Telegram Fitzgerald was unavailable Thursday evening. Fitzgerald declined to comment to The Sun, according to the newspaper.

Chief among Fitzgerald’s claims is ability to drive crime rates down, but his assessment of Fort Worth crime appears to be more positive than what federal data shows. Baltimore has one of the highest crime rates in the country.

According to Fort Worth crime reports, crime dropped overall by 5.5 percent and the rate for serious offenses, dubbed Part I crimes by the FBI fell 8 percent from 2015 to 2017, the most recent year data is available.

But FBI data shows that decline was fueled largely in decreases in the thefts and burglaries. Crime rate data from 2016 and 2017, the two full years of Fitzgerald’s tenure, shows overall violent crime rose about 6 percent, the homicide rate was up 9 percent and aggravated assaults increased almost 8 percent. Data for last year has not been released.

Councilman Brian Bryd, whose district includes the Las Vegas Trail area, told a Baltimore delegation sent to vet Fitzgerald in December that he was “very pleased” with the chief’s work.

“There’s a part of my district that’s crime-riddled and I’ve been pleased with the police department’s response to crime. It’s down 10 percent,” Byrd told the visitors, according to a transcript.

In the résumé, Fitzgerald also claims to have 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.

Fitzgerald was expected to start meeting with Baltimore community members this week, but The Sun reported some of those meetings will be postponed due to an “unexpected medical emergency having to do with his son which requires immediate surgery.”

Meetings Friday with city leaders and a council hearing Monday on his nomination will be rescheduled. The Baltimore City Council will still hear testimony from the public about his nomination Saturday.

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.
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