After a three-hour hearing Thursday evening, a City Council committee unanimously approved Mayor Brandon Scott’s pick to lead the Baltimore Police Department, longtime veteran Rich Worley.
The 6-0 vote culminated a smooth nomination process for the homegrown Worley, who Scott announced as his nominee immediately after former Commissioner Michael Harrison’s abrupt departure and without a national search or input from community residents. The City Council is expected to take a full vote on Oct. 2.
That lack of community involvement was an irritant for several residents who spoke out against Worley’s nomination during public comment on Thursday, and the federal judge overseeing the Police Department’s consent decree also noted last month the imperative for city leaders to solicit that feedback.
In late July, the mayor hastily called a series of town hall forums to hear from residents about Worley’s selection. The hearing on Thursday featured some of the same criticisms from those town halls, as well as similar talking points in response to common concerns about a lack of community policing by officers, high levels of gun violence and open-air drug markets.
In his opening remarks, Worley laid out his vision of pushing the department further into the realm of community policing, and said that officers leaving their vehicles to forge relationships with residents would be his number one priority. The days of zero tolerance policing, Worley said, “didn’t work and alienated our communities.”
His rise through the ranks of the Baltimore Police Department cut against and in favor of Worley during his nomination process, with public officials former and current who had worked closely with him lining up at the podum to praise his work ethic, integrity and honesty.
On the other side of the coin, community activists painted Worley as a product of the department’s corrupt culture, and someone who hadn’t convincingly answered their concerns about what he did to hold his colleagues accountable before and after scandals such as the Gun Trace Task Force.
They also questioned his role overseeing the Northeastern District in 2013, particularly concerning the killing of Tyrone West, who died during a struggle with Baltimore Police officers following a traffic stop in that district.
Tawanda Jones, West’s sister, expressed dissatisfaction with Worley’s answers about her brother’s death during the town halls, saying he was asking residents to believe police were still capable of policing themselves.
“This pain started when Worley was in office, and it’s just sad,” Jones said. “Nothing changed.”
Mark Washington, a Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello community leader, said the July 2 Brooklyn Homes mass shooting showed a department that is “rudderless and adrift.”
But Washington said he was encouraged by Worley’s response to the agency’s shortcomings that evening, and his taking ownership of what went wrong reminded him of the “straight talker who pursued positive change” that he worked with in the Northeastern District.
City Council members pressed Worley on many of the same topics he has recently answered during routine oversight hearings and special meetings about the Brooklyn Homes tragedy, in which two people were killed and 28 others injured.
Namely, Worley answered for what went wrong with the police response to the block party and what he was doing to encourage officers to interact more with the communities they police so that the “indifference” that defined the evening doesn’t resurface.
City Councilman James Torrence, in explaining his yes vote, urged Worley not to simply demote ranking supervisors who are found by internal investigations to have fallen short during the response to the Brooklyn Homes shooting.
“They should be fired,” he said.
Reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this report.