Mayor Catherine Pugh remains confident the constant stream of controversy plaguing the Baltimore Police Department isn’t scaring off quality candidates from becoming the agency’s next commissioner.
The mayor’s comments came during her regular briefing with reporters at City Hall on Wednesday and followed the release of an Independent Review Board’s report critical of the department’s investigation into the death of Det. Sean Suiter last November.
“Well, we’ve got over 40 applications and people are still calling and wanting to be the police commissioner. So, I don’t think these findings will hurt our search for a police commissioner at all,” Pugh said.
Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle is the fourth person to lead the department in just over three years. During that time the department has battled surging crime, corruption charges, and sagging public confidence in one of the nation’s largest police forces.
The deluge of problems facing the department come at a time when many of the nation’s cities are growing and attracting investment amid renewed interest in city living. Meanwhile Baltimore’s population continues to decline, retailers say they have struggled to lure customers afraid of crime, and business leaders remain concerned about a lack of new firms moving to the city.
The review board’s report, released Monday, determined Suiter killed himself in the Harlem Park neighborhood in West Baltimore. Initially police believed the detective was murdered, largely due to medical personnel reporting the bullet that killed the right-handed detective entered his skull from the left side of his head.
Suiter’s scheduled testimony before a federal grand jury the day after his death in a corruption case involving members of the department’s Gun Trace Task Force raised suspicions he may have been killed. Six of the task force members pleaded guilty in a federal investigation of the disbanded unit.
Suiter’s death was the latest complication for the department that has been mired in scandal since 25-year-old Freddie Gray died from injuries suffered in police custody more than three years.
The six officers involved in Freddie Gray’s arrest in early 2015 faced manslaughter and murder charges, but were found not guilty. But a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the police department in the aftermath of the riots found the department routinely engaged in unconstitutional policing. The city has since entered into a consent decree to reform the department.
That July, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts was fired. Kevin Davis, at that time a deputy commissioner, was elevated by former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to the interim commissioner. The interim tag was removed after he was confirmed as commissioner by the Baltimore City Council that October. Davis was fired in January 2018 after Baltimore set a record for per-capita homicides in 2017.
Deputy Commissioner Daryl DeSousa, who had been with the department since 1988, was appointed interim commissioner by Pugh, who was elected in 2016. DeSousa, who the Baltimore City Council confirmed as commissioner in February 2018, resigned in May after he was charged by federal authorities for failing to pay his taxes.
Tuggle, who was a deputy commissioner at the time, was elevated to interim commissioner following DeSousa’s departure. Pugh has said the city will conduct a through national search for a new commissioner. Tuggle, who worked for the Drug Enforcement Agency for more than 20 years and headed the agency’s office in Philadelphia, has said he wants the job permanently.