Fort Worth Police chief takes job in Baltimore
Fort Worth police chief Joel Fitzgerald, in résumés submitted for his job here and in Baltimore, billed himself as a tactical crime fighter with a focus on transparency and the community.
Although reviews of his résumé by the Star-Telegram and the Baltimore Sun show he overstated some of his accomplishments in Allentown and Fort Worth, Fitgerald’s account of his time in Missouri City, Texas, appears to check out.
“I can’t see anything that’s not true, or a stretch,” former Missouri City Mayor Allen Owen said. “I think everything here is factual.”
Fitzgerland is the finalist for the police commissioner’s post in Baltimore. His confirmation hearing has been delayed.
Fort Worth city manager David Cooke did not respond to emails and phone messages on Friday.
Taking questions after formally announcing her bid for re-election on Thursday, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said Fitzgerald acted on his own in applying for the Baltimore job, and she didn’t know details about his future plans.
“He’s an incredible man, “ Price said. “He stepped into a very difficult situation and in my opinion handled it very well. There’s not a big city chief around that doesn’t have issues.”
While some crime in Fort Worth is down, Fitzgerald’s assessment of “steep decreases” in the crime rate appears to be rosier than what federal data shows. With 342 homicides in 2017, Baltimore faces one of the highest crime rates in the country, according to the FBI.
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 shows 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, shows 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.
“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 the transcript.
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.
Fitzgerald said he established Allentown’s first partnership with a federal program created to improve cooperation among law enforcement agencies to reduce drug trafficking. Wag told the Morning Call the city’s work with the program predated Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald first held the position of chief in the Houston suburb of Missouri City, where he joined the force in April 2009.
Owen, who served 25 years as mayor before recently being unseated, said Fitzgerald remained in high regard among Missouri City officers and leaders, as far as he knows.
Asked about Fitzgerald’s inflated claims about Fort Worth and Allentown, Owen said the chief may have made a mistake. He said he hasn’t heard from Baltimore officials about Fitzgerald.
“Maybe that’s just what he thought,” Owen said. “I don’t think Joel would have something down intentionally misleading.”
In his résumé, Fitzgerald said he changed the culture of the police department and shifted Missouri City to be more community oriented. Owen said that was among Fitzgerald’s major accomplishments before he left in December 2013.
Before he arrived, officers were not consistently assigned the same beats. Under Fitzgerald, the department moved to dedicated officers for each neighborhood, a shift that Owen said positively changed the department’s relationship with citizens.
“People could get to know who their officer was, they could see them,” he said. “The officer knew the neighborhood, who belonged there.”
The city opened a substation across town from police headquarters during Fitzgerald’s tenure. Owen said the move helped “give a sense of comfort to the neighborhood.”
Fitzgerald also emphasized diverse recruiting, which Owen said was important for Missouri City, where more than 45 percent of residents are black and about 15 percent are Hispanic or Latino.
He confirmed that Fitzgerald was key in acquiring grants the department used to improve technology and expand the force. He also organized the area’s first auto burglary and theft task force and gang hotspot patrols. Fitzgerald brought experience dealing with gangs and drug trafficking from his previous job as a lieutenant in Philadelphia, key hiring points.
Owen said he knew when Fitzgerald was hired in Missouri City that the post would be a stepping stone and he wasn’t surprised to see him apply for Baltimore. Fitzgerald is originally from the Philadelphia area.
“I hated to see him go when he left of Allentown, but I know his heart is in that part of the country,” he said. “He’s an outstanding individual.”