Leaders from civil rights groups gathered outside Baltimore Police headquarters Thursday morning, decrying what they called Mayor Brandon Scott’s lack of transparency in appointing a new police commissioner and demanding he restart the search process.

Scott announced this month that Commissioner Michael Harrison would step down and be succeeded by Richard Worley, who was most recently the deputy commissioner for operations.

The administration has refused to disclose the details of Harrison’s departure, including why he is still on the city’s payroll and when his last day on the job is.

Rev. Kobi Little, the president of Baltimore’s chapter of the NAACP, said he learned of Harrison’s departure and Worley’s appointment in a phone call from Scott three weeks ago.

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Little said it was his understanding that Harrison’s contract was not renewed. “This is our interpretation of the open-source facts,” he said.

Little said the mayor should restart the search and look nationwide for Harrison’s successor. Even if Worley ultimately replaces Harrison, he must not become commissioner without a thorough vetting, Little said.

“We urge members of the Baltimore City Council to refuse to rubber-stamp any nomination that fails to start with transparency and civil society input,” he said.

In a statement, Scott said the goal has always been to hand the reins to one of Baltimore’s own and he has no intention of changing his plan to formally nominate Worley.

“Unfortunately, at today’s press conference, it appeared the Baltimore NAACP didn’t have the facts, and it is incredibly disappointing that organizations who have been critically important partners in our work to strengthen our city are taking this tact,” he said.

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He added that his administration “is in near constant communication with many of these organizations on a host of topics, including this one.”

There will be a robust community engagement plan implemented once Worley moves into the official confirmation process, he said.

Baltimore’s mayors nominate the police commissioner, who must be approved by the City Council. The last several mayors have alternated between selecting local, homegrown officials, such as Worley, and searching nationwide for leadership, such as Harrison, who arrived in 2019 from New Orleans.

“The process matters,” Little said. “We live in a democracy, and democracies require transparency, a respect for the process and engagement of civil society. And in this round of selecting a police commissioner that has not happened.”

Little said he and other civil rights leaders were involved in an “extended deliberative process” of giving former Mayor Catherine Pugh feedback on her most recent nationwide search for a commissioner. He said he sat with Harrison and other candidates, giving them analysis and history of policing in Baltimore.

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Scott assured him in their phone call that Worley would reach out immediately, Little said, but he and other civil rights leaders have yet to hear from the acting police commissioner.

NaShona Kess, the NAACP chapter’s vice president, said the nonprofit is not concerned with Worley himself but with the absence of community engagement, which has not given her and other leaders the chance to ask him about his vision and commitment to civil rights.

“We do not know that because nothing has been provided to us. The mayor has not provided that to the community. He hasn’t spoken out about the process. We’re sitting here trying to get answers, and nothing has been provided,” she said.

emily.sullivan@thebaltimorebanner.com

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news. 

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