The former police chief of Boston, New York and Los Angeles says Baltimore's next commissioner must be on the same page with the mayor, and he thinks an outsider can provide a fresh perspective under the right circumstances.
William J. Bratton, perhaps the most well-known name in policing, said in an interview that there should be no shortage of candidates to become Baltimore's next commissioner, but that he knows some who considered applying and opted to stay away. He declined to name them.
Bratton said former Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III was “highly regarded in the profession, and by all accounts was doing pretty well.”
“But he opted to step away, and the next person coming in will have to quite clearly look at the relationship with the mayor in terms of how that's going to work out,” Bratton said. “There has to be a trust and confidence in each other.”
Bealelfeld said he retired to spend more time with his family. He was among several recent high-profile departures, including a deputy mayor and the mayor’s chief of staff.
Bratton is not involved in the search committee appointed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to find a new commissioner, but said he has been told that the panel has narrowed its list to three or four finalists.
City officials, who have faced criticism for not including community leaders on the panel, have declined to comment on the process or provide a timetable for a decision. A mayoral spokesman did not return an e-mail message Monday.
Acting Commissioner Anthony Barksdale, who has been the second-in-command for five years, continues to serve in an interim capacity almost two months after Bealefeld stepped away. Bealefeld’s retirement did not become official until Aug. 1.
Some city leaders, such as Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, have said that they want the next commissioner to come from within the department, and note the city’s recent crime declines.
Bratton, who rose through the ranks of the Boston police department before leading the NYPD and LAPD, said concerns about bringing in leaders from other departments tend to be “overblown.” Such hires usually are made ”when an organization is dysfunctional, and someone can come in with no loyalty to insiders and be very objective.”
He added, “Really, every organization is in need of change continuously. You can't rest on your successes and stay dormant. My understanding is that [city crime] numbers are looking pretty good, but you have to look proportionately — how do they look against a national comparison.”
Though murders in Baltimore are at the lowest level in 30 years, the homicide rate for 2011 was still the sixth-highest in the country, according to FBI statistics.
Councilman Warren Branch, the chair of the public safety committee, said it's unclear which way the administration is leaning in its search. “I think it would be more transparent if the administration was working with the council people, but I haven't heard anything,” he said.
Branch, like Young, supports hiring a commissioner from within the department. “I believe if you work hard, you should be rewarded,” he said. “Whoever has been working under Bealefeld would carry on his mission and will continue to keep the homicide rates down.”
Donald Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said Rawlings-Blake should take her time making the selection. “I think you’d like to have it as soon as possible, but it’s prudent to be careful in this selection. It’s one of the most important in city government.”
He didn’t say whether the business community has a preference for the job, praising Bealefeld but saying of other candidates: “For the betterment of the city, we’d like to see them check everything out as best they can.”