Thursday morning’s news that Police Commissioner Michael Harrison would be stepping down did not come out of nowhere. Rumors had been circulating for at least a week that he was on the way out.

But the timing of the announcement, which came on the heels of the Tuesday police budget hearing and amid an air-quality crisis affecting the entire region, caught some off guard.

Harrison took the helm in March 2019 and led the department through significant federally mandated reforms, though his tenure was also marred by stubbornly high levels of gun violence and persistent staffing issues. Still, Harrison provided stability in a position that had seen considerable turnover before his arrival. And his departure comes after a wave of similarly high-profile exits by other public safety leaders.

Harrison will be replaced by Deputy Commissioner Rich Worley.

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Here’s how Baltimore residents reacted to the news Thursday:

Gov. Wes Moore

Gov. Wes Moore said he had “a great conversation” with Harrison about his pending departure Wednesday.

“He took on a very, very challenging job, and he is a true man of honor and integrity,” Moore, a Democrat, said Thursday.

The change in police leadership won’t change the state government’s efforts to work in partnership with Baltimore on public safety, Moore said.

“Once approval happens with acting Commissioner Worley, we look forward to continuing a strong relationship with him,” Moore said. “We know that the obstacles for being able to address public safety are not things that individual and local jurisdictions do alone. They do it in partnership with the state, and we look forward to having a strong relationship with Commissioner Worley.”

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The Baltimore police union

The Baltimore City Lodge #3 Fraternal Order of Police was quick to react to the news Thursday morning, sending a critical tweet from its president, Sgt. Mike Mancuso.

“The #1 responsibility of a PC is to protect its citizens from violent criminals today, tomorrow, and next week rather than to holistically plan for decades of social work. That is for others,” the tweet read. “How many have lost their lives from this failed approach?”

The union went on to say it communicates well with Worley. The union directed the new commissioner to focus on retention and recruitment, “because without those numbers increasing we can not fulfill our first priority to protect our citizens.”

The Baltimore City Council

Councilman Eric Costello brought Harrison’s then-unannounced departure to the forefront during a BPD budget hearing Thursday night. After Harrison said in his opening remarks that rumors of him leaving for a job in Washington, D.C., were untrue, Costello asked bluntly if Harrison was planning on serving out the rest of his contract, which was set to expire in 2024. The police commissioner refused to answer the question directly, saying he serves at the mayor’s pleasure.

In a Thursday morning statement, Costello thanked Harrison for his years of service and said his exit was a source of concern during budget hearings this week.

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He said he has a great working relationship with Worley and he’s confident the police official will continue to make the meaningful changes necessary to ensure all communities across the city are safe.

Councilman Mark Conway, who chairs the public safety committee, said he was “100% surprised” by the news, especially on the tail of budget hearings. “It just wasn’t looking like anyone was expecting this to happen,” he said.

He said Worley knows the rank and file very well and will keep the ship moving forward, and he committed to examining his nomination and vision closely. “With crime and violence declining in some areas but still at unacceptable levels, our city can’t afford anything less than a fully focused department,” he said.

Councilwoman Odette Ramos praised Harrison for elevating more women into leadership roles than any other police commissioner.

“It seems to me that he feels the transformation is well on its way, so he can turn to whatever needs him next,” she said. She said acting Commissioner Worley is “one of our own” and a trusted officer and commander in several districts, “so he knows this city like the back of his hand.”

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Councilman John Bullock said he was caught “a little bit off guard” when he learned of Harrison’s departure ahead of Thursday morning’s announcement.

”He’s done some really good work,” Bullock said of Harrison, noting his efforts in community outreach and implementing reforms.

Bullock said Worley has a positive reputation and he expects he’ll be confirmed by the council.

”One of the things that is really encouraging is the fact that he came up through the ranks in Baltimore,” Bullock said. “I think it’s one of the critiques of other commissioners, that we’ve gone outside the city to search for talent when we have talent here. So someone who has proven to be capable, who’s come up through the ranks, who understands the culture of the department — but at the same time wants to improve it — I think that’s a step in the right direction.”

One of the challenges facing Worley will be getting buy-in from police officers as the department continues to make reforms under the consent decree.

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”Even though he’s someone who came up through the department, he now has to lead and manage that department,” Bullock said. “So some of the cultural changes, it’s still a challenge. Because I think he would probably admit, as others have, that there are some attitudes that are entrenched that need to be repaired. And there are some things that we need to move forward.”

Police reform activist Ray Kelly

Ray Kelly, a police reform activist who runs his own nonprofit and has helped the city navigate community relations on policing issues, said he had heard rumblings of Harrison’s departure for a month, which signified to him that the discussions have been going on for even longer.

Kelly felt the uncertainty around Harrison’s tenure was beginning to negatively affect police reform efforts, such as the city’s delay in formalizing local control of its police department. With Worley’s promotion and the recent emphasis on enforcement of low-level offenses, Kelly said, he was worried about the implications.

“[Worley] is old school,” Kelly said. “In perception, it’s looking a lot like the city is going back to an earlier time, with more enforcement on citation offenses and curfews. It just looks like we’re starting to go backwards toward zero tolerance.”

Kelly added: “Our work has always been about changing the culture of BPD. At face value, [Worley taking over for Harrison] doesn’t look great.”

Maryland Office of the Public Defender

One of the city’s top defense lawyers responded to Harrison’s departure with a statement Thursday afternoon, saying “the work of establishing trust in policing and stability for the citizens of Baltimore has not been completed” and insisting it should have input on the commissioner selection.

“The next commissioner must not reinstitute wide-scale arrests for low-level offenses that disproportionately impact Black and Brown people and other individuals who are vulnerable to escalating police-citizen encounters,” Deputy District Public Defender Alycia Capozello said. “The department remains under a federal consent decree, with the expectations of greater accountability for officer misconduct and abuse, and of policing that addresses the needs of the community without over-reliance on arrests and prosecutions.”

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