The Baltimore City Council confirmed the nomination of Richard Worley as police commissioner, capping four months of interim service after former police head Michael Harrison abruptly resigned in June.
Mayor Brandon Scott tapped Worley, a homegrown veteran who first entered the agency more than two dozen years ago and climbed his way up the ranks, the same day he announced Harrison’s departure.
“We must strive for stability and continuity, particularly as it relates to public safety in the city of Baltimore,” said City Council President Nick Mosby.
Since Worley first took the position on an acting basis, Baltimore has seen both a reduction in homicides overall and a slew of negative department headlines, from the mass shooting at Brooklyn Homes during an annual cookout that left two young people dead and 28 more injured to the department’s decision not to warn the public about the man suspected to have killed Pava LaPere.
Councilwoman Phylicia Porter, who represents Brooklyn Homes and was the lone no vote, said it is abundantly clear that the Police Department has multiple problems.
“It is my hope that my vote will be a force for change,” she said.
Other councilmembers made public their reservations about Worley, citing the Cherry Hill mass shooting and LaPere’s killing. “If BPD produces this type of performance again, with what happened in the past two weeks, I will call for his resignation,” said Councilman Eric Costello.
Councilman John Bullock joined the chorus of council members who said they were disturbed by the department’s handling of the investigation into LaPere’s suspected killer, who is also the suspect in a brutal rape and attempted killing that occurred days before her death. Unlike some suspects in violent crimes, the department did not publicize his identity.
Bullock referenced the questions that swirled across Baltimore in the days of LaPere’s death: If the earlier victims had been in another neighborhood, would BPD have released the suspect’s information?
“Without going into detail, I had a conversation with Commissioner Worley about those questions, and I did get some answers,” Bullock said. “Frankly, we don’t understand all the details that go into these investigations.”
Before casting his yes vote, he asked the council and attending residents: “Would a delay of this vote make the citizens of Baltimore safe? Are we expecting another candidate to emerge at this point?”
Councilman Ryan Dorsey said he originally told aides to the mayor that he would vote against Worley’s confirmation. But the large majority of his constituents he spoke to while canvassing his Northeast district on Sunday told him that they wanted Worley confirmed.
“This is the only reason that I’m doing that,” he said, after casting his vote amid the gasps of police accountability activists from his district.
Scott’s decision to tap a veteran of the force instead of publicly conducting a national search has drawn criticism from some activist groups, including the Baltimore branch of the NAACP.
In a statement released ahead of Monday’s confirmation hearing, Rev. Kobi Little, the chapter’s president, said he remains profoundly concerned about the department’s response to “a violent predator at large in Baltimore, Brooklyn Day, and the recurring incidents of officers being arrested for crimes.”
“The missteps, mistakes, and miscalculations observed over recent months have had fatal and unacceptable consequences,” Little said.
The council also voted Monday evening unanimously to confirm acting Fire Commissioner James Wallace.
The council had already held committee hearings about Wallace’s and Worley’s appointments, including a three-hour hearing regarding Worley’s appointment, during which he laid out his vision for the department and members of the public were invited to testify. The committee unanimously confirmed him, paving the way for Monday night’s vote.
Tawanda Jones addressed the committee at the earlier hearing, expressing a lack of answers and closure in the killing of her brother Tyrone West, who died during a struggle with city police following a traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore.
She attended the council meeting on Monday night, where activists held half a dozen posters telling the council to “VOTE NO ON WORLEY” and decried the council’s decision to confirm the commissioner.
“I feel absolutely disgusted,” Jones said. “Between Brooklyn Homes and this poor girl [LaPere], all he can say is, ‘Oh, my bad.’ This serial rapist that murdered this young lady, they didn’t warn anyone. If he publicized that man, she might be alive.”
Jones and other protestors, including Duane “Shorty” Davis, called out from the viewing gallery at the beginning of the meeting, asking to testify. Council meetings, where lawmakers gather to vote on legislation, do not usually include testimony from the public; such testimony is generally reserved for hearings, where a committee debates legislation or mayoral nominees, such as Worley. Someone shouted that they were told they could ask the Council President to make an exception.
Mosby responded cryptically. “I’m sorry that a member of this body communicated to you that you should talk to to a presiding officer about that,” he said, not naming the council member who apparently told the activists they could ask him for permission to testify. “That’s inappropriate of them and consistent of who they are.”
After the vote count ended and Mosby announced that Worley was confirmed, Jones, Davis and the other activists booed the council, chanting: “You don’t deserve to serve! You don’t deserve to serve!”
A police officer and several security guards escorted the residents outside of the chambers; they were outside City Hall by the time the meeting ended.
Outside the chambers, Mosby declined to name the person. “That individual knows exactly who they are,” he said. “Folks’ true colors always show.”
Jones declined to name the council person, saying her group asked them if they could testify at the meeting and the lawmaker responded they should ask Mosby in his role as council president.
“No one told us to do what we did,” she said.