For Baltimore’s top cop, a day filled by shak­ing hands

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Ian Dun­can

By 7 o’clock Mon­day even­ing, act­ing Baltimore Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Michael Har­ri­son was guz­zling a Red Bull to en­er­gize him for talk­ing with res­i­dents af­ter a long day and hop­ing it would wear off in time for him to go to sleep. An­other early wake-up call was in store for him Tues­day.

On his first day on the job, Har­ri­son said he’s ea­ger to get to work, meet­ing the com­mu­nity and the 2,000 of­fi­cers un­der his com­mand.

“It’s an honor. It’s a priv­i­lege,” Har­ri­son said as Mayor Cather­ine Pugh in­tro­duced him to re­porters at City Hall on Mon­day morn­ing.

”I’ve en­joyed a 28-year ca­reer in law en­force­ment and now this is the evo­lu­tion of my ca­reer. The next chap­ter in my pro­fes­sional and my per­sonal life.”

Har­ri­son of­fered few de­tails about how he would get a han­dle on one of the most chal­leng­ing polic­ing jobs in the na­tion. He en­ters a depart­ment in the midst of im­pos­ing civil rights re­forms un­der the watch of a fed­eral judge and bat­tling ram­pant vi­o­lence on the streets with what com­man­ders and rank-and-file of­fi­cers alike say are too few re­sources. Be­fore

mak­ing any de­ci­sions, Har­ri­son out­lined a pe­riod of study — get­ting to know the of­fi­cers he leads and the com­mu­ni­ties they pa­trol.

“I heard the mayor call it a chal­lenge,” Har­ri­son said. “I see it as an op­por­tu­nity. It’s an op­por­tu­nity for the city of Baltimore, for the po­lice depart­ment, for me pro­fes­sion­ally.”

Har­ri­son, wear­ing a Baltimore po­lice uni­form with four gold stars at his throat, said he has been re­ceiv­ing nightly brief­ings from in­terim com­mis­sioner Gary Tug­gle since ac­cept­ing the job last month. Tug­gle has re­turned to his prior role as deputy po­lice com­mis­sioner.

Pugh in­tro­duced Har­ri­son as some­one with the nec­es­sary ex­pe­ri­ence to suc­ceed in Baltimore. He was most re­cently po­lice su­per­in­ten­dent in NewOr­leans, which has also un­der­gone civil rights re­forms and faces high rates of vi­o­lent crime.

“I truly be­lieve, and cer­tainly he does, that he’s up for the chal­lenge,” Pugh said.

Har­ri­son had mes­sages for both his of­fi­cers — say­ing he’d be the depart­ment’s “No. 1 ad­vo­cate” — and a com­mu­nity with which he promised to build a re­la­tion­ship.

Har­ri­son took his first steps on the ground to­ward get­ting to know the com­mu­nity at his first mee­tand-greet Mon­day even­ing in North­west Baltimore

The mayor sub­mit­ted Har­ri­son’s name to the City Coun­cil on Mon­day even­ing. The body has a vote on whether to ap­prove him, and he’s ex­pected to re­ceive broad sup­port. Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bernard C. “Jack” Young and four other mem­bers of the coun­cil ap­peared along­side Har­ri­son at the news con­fer­ence.

The brief event marked a con­trast to Pugh’s in­tro­duc­tion last year of Joel Fitzger­ald, her pre­vi­ous choice to lead the depart­ment. He ap­peared in a suit and an­nounced he would stay in his cur­rent job as po­lice chief in Fort Worth, Texas, a de­ci­sion that ham­pered his abil­ity to build sup­port in Baltimore. Fitzger­ald ul­ti­mately with­drew from con­sid­er­a­tion af­ter his son suf­fered a med­i­cal emer­gency.

An­early ques­tion for Har­ri­son is how he will re­spond to a move by State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn Mosby to not pros­e­cute mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion cases. Har­ri­son said he was meet­ing her Mon­day morn­ing and would dis­cuss the is­sue with her then.

Un­de­terred by Mon­day even­ing’s sleet and rain, sev­eral dozen peo­ple gath­ered in the au­di­to­rium of the For­est Park School for the first of nine pub­lic ses­sions around the city hosted by the mayor’s of­fice.

In his open­ing re­marks, Har­ri­son talked about how he’d met his wife, who sat in the au­di­ence. He touted his ex­pe­ri­ence in New Or­leans, work­ing un­der­cover to in­ves­ti­gate cor­rupt po­lice, a ref­er­ence to Baltimore’s cor­rupt for­mer Gun Trace Task Force.

“Even then I had no prob­lem putting bad cops away,” Har­ri­son said to ap­plause.

Lin­ing up be­fore a mi­cro­phone dur­ing the two-hour “meet and greet,” res­i­dents asked Har­ri­son about the war on drugs, whether he would po­lice home­less­ness, and how he would re­cruit and train new of­fi­cers. They shared how the city’s vi­o­lence had frac­tured their lives. One woman said she bought a Ger­man shep­herd. An­other woman spoke about the day her nephew was shot.

“We’re in pain,” one man said.

In the au­di­ence was Clay­ton Guy­ton, one of the stars of the re­cent doc­u­men­tary, “Charm City.” To him, the “jury is still out” on Pugh’s pick.

“I try not to jump to those fast con­clu­sions,” he said. “I’m here to lis­ten.”

For the first few weeks, so is Har­ri­son.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BALTIMORE SUN

Act­ing Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Michael Har­ri­son, left, greets Sean Stin­nett, pres­i­dent of North­west Dis­trict Com­mu­nity Re­la­tions Coun­cil, be­fore the first of a se­ries of com­mu­nity meet­ings at For­est Park High School.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BALTIMORE SUN

Act­ing Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Michael Har­ri­son con­ducts the first of a se­ries of com­mu­nity meet­ings Mon­day at For­est Park High School.

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