In mid-May, after prayer and deliberation, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison informed Mayor Brandon Scott that he would be resigning as the city’s top cop. He gave 90 days’ notice as required in his contract.

But less than a month later, Harrison was at City Hall, revealing during a hastily called news conference that he was stepping down — effective immediately. A successor, Deputy Commissioner Richard Worley, had already been chosen and was now in charge.

The scene — the mayor, the outgoing police commissioner and his replacement standing side by side to announce the handoff of power — belied what had been a whirlwind 36 hours behind the scenes. Worley, without interviewing for the job, was given less than 10 hours’ notice that he would be named the city’s next police commissioner the following morning.

All three sat down with The Baltimore Banner and media partner WJZ-TV on Wednesday, providing new details about the process. The city had previously refused to provide answers, denying, delaying or redacting public records requests.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

During the interview, Harrison maintained that his departure was his choice and said the timeline was hastened by increasing questions about his future.

“This was totally my decision,” Harrison said. “The mayor was very, very gracious. And we did have a plan. But we had to make an adjustment.”

Harrison’s exit was the latest in a string of high-profile departures from City Hall. Scott’s administration has seen an exodus of top officials throughout its two-and-a-half-year run, from a handful of communications directors — some of whom were fired after months on the job — to multiple chiefs of staff, to Shantay Jackson, who led Scott’s new, non-police public safety office.

Former city Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Mayor Brandon Scott discuss Harrison’s departure during an interview at City Hall on July 12, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Harrison revealed that he informed Scott on May 13 that he would be stepping down early from his five-year contract paying him $287,500 annually that was set to expire next March. It was just days after word leaked that Jackson was also leaving her post. Harrison’s contract required him to give 90 days’ notice, meaning he expected to leave in mid-August.

“When I look back over the four years that I was here, it was readily apparent to me that we had accomplished many, if not most, of the goals that we set,” Harrison said.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Noting the 20% reduction in homicides so far this year, Harrison said, “I was convinced that the time was now. You can only pass the torch when you are not in crisis. And it was the most opportune time to pass the torch.”

Harrison kept his circle tight. He told only his wife and pastor. Two days after notifying Scott, he informed Judge James K. Bredar, who is overseeing the city’s consent decree, and Ken Thompson, who oversees the decree’s monitoring team. Later, he told Gov. Wes Moore. He did not tell his staff.

Meanwhile, rumors began to circulate that Harrison was in talks to take the vacant chief position with the Washington, D.C., police department.

On June 6, Harrison attended the BPD’s annual budget hearing, where he opened by addressing the Washington rumors, calling them untrue. He maintains that he did not meet with officials there about the opening.

When it came time for questions, City Councilman Eric Costello asked Harrison point-blank whether he intended to serve out the rest of his contract.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Harrison demurred, saying that he serves “at the pleasure of the mayor.”

“I have to know where the mayor stands on that answer before I can actually answer the question,” he said.

Costello repeated the question.

“[I have] said no to many opportunities that have come, but there may be a consideration that I may have to consider if it comes, if and when it comes, I may have to make that consideration,” Harrison answered.

After a long pause, a visibly frustrated Costello abruptly called a five-minute recess. The budget hearing then continued onto other topics.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Costello would not discuss with The Banner whether he had been tipped to Harrison’s plans, but has told others: “I don’t ask questions I don’t already know the answers to.”

Harrison said it would have been “inappropriate” to disclose his plans at that hearing, and that it caused him to upend his timeline.

“I answered it in the most delicate, diplomatic way possible. But what happened was it created a level of uncertainty that then caused the department to not know its future, who the leader was,” Harrison said.

Costello said Wednesday that his question was “basic” and met with “an ambiguous ... at best” response.

“The City Council of Baltimore is entitled to the same level of transparency as the mayor with respect to public safety and something as important as whether the Police Commissioner intends to remain in his position,” Costello said. “Despite the ongoing rumors never being honestly addressed, the council and the public had every right to know he had submitted his resignation.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“While the former Police Commissioner was busy looking for another job or seeking an exit strategy, I was busy doing the job I was elected to do,” Costello added.

Harrison said he felt it had become “extremely inappropriate for me to now preside over purchases, decisions, promotions, graduations, all of the day-to-day deployment decisions” and that “it was apparent to me that we should transition sooner rather than later so we could protect morale, which leads to performance, which leads to whether we can continue the momentum that we are having.”

Multiple sources have said that the budget hearing drama prompted Moore to call Scott, which irked Scott and prompted him to hasten Harrison’s exit.

Asked whether that account was accurate, Scott on Wednesday responded: “This is not about and was not about my partner in Gov. Moore. This is not about anything else other than what we have been discussing today: that we wanted to have this transition happen in a specific way, that we wanted to make sure that this department was led in a way with full confidence in its leader.”

Moore has declined to provide any additional details about conversations with Harrison and Scott prior to Harrison’s resignation announcement. “I’m gonna keep private conversations as private conversations,” he said.

Worley, meanwhile, said he received a call at 11:30 p.m. on June 7 informing him that he had been selected as the next police commissioner. The public announcement occurred at 9 a.m. the following day.

Harrison informed some staffers that night; most found out the next morning when the announcement was made.

Scott knew he wanted to tap Worley and felt no need to widen the search. He said he considered his experience working with Worley as the Northeastern District commander, Worley’s Baltimore roots, and his 24 years of department experience.

“I know his dedication for this city; I know his love for the city. I know his love for the Baltimore Police Department. And most importantly, I know that he wants to save lives and hold those accountable who take them,” Scott said.

Scott said he intends to formally nominate Worley before the next City Council meeting. Some community groups, including the NAACP, have expressed frustration that there wasn’t a more open process of choosing the next commissioner that included the participation of residents.

Scott said the city intends to hold forums in the nine police districts but that he believes he needed “to show strong, steady leadership.”

“The residents of Baltimore elected me to be the mayor and the chief executive of this city, and it’s my authority and my responsibility to make sure that this department had steady leadership that was ready to keep us moving in the right direction,” Scott said.

Though Harrison’s departure was abrupt, he has continued to consult with Worley and has made visits to Police Department headquarters. They spoke in the aftermath of the July 2 mass shooting in Brooklyn that killed two and wounded 28 others.

In the weeks that followed Harrison’s announcement, the city refused to answer basic questions about his resignation or turn over public records, including:

Some information was redacted from copies of his pay stubs — including information about a leave that had been previously provided — and the city has not responded to recent questions from The Banner’s attorney about why information was denied or redacted.

In the interview, Harrison finally confirmed his last day on the job: Aug. 12.

Baltimore Banner reporters Pamela Wood and Tim Prudente contributed to this article.

More From The Banner