BALTIMORE — Michael Harrison was sworn in Tuesday as Baltimore’s new police commissioner, inheriting a dysfunctional force that’s long been distrusted by many citizens in this starkly divided city where misconduct by officers and chronically high rates of violent crime are just a couple of many systemic failures.
The former leader of the New Orleans police force took the oath of office in an ornate City Hall chamber about 14 hours after the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously to confirm him. Harrison took over day-to-day leadership last month as acting commissioner.
Harrison said he’s eager to help create a safe city and improve the Baltimore Police Department, which is under a federal consent decree requiring sweeping reforms. The 49-year-old career law enforcer and ordained minister promised to be an upstanding police commissioner for city residents and an effective leader for his Baltimore police colleagues.
“Having had a wonderful career in New Orleans I really thought that I would just end my career there. But God had bigger things for me to do,” said Harrison, standing beside Mayor Catherine Pugh and his wife and mother during Tuesday’s ceremony. His formal authorization couldn’t come amid higher expectations within City Hall. Pugh described Harrison as “the right person at the right time and in the right place” to remake the city’s beleaguered police department and restore public trust. In his Tuesday remarks, Harrison said he’s looking forward to doing his part to realize Pugh’s vision in transforming Baltimore “into the city it should have always been, what it needs to be right now: The greatest city in America.”
Harrison’s biggest challenge will be to boost public trust. He’s already spoken to numerous residents across Baltimore as part of a charm offensive in recent weeks. But he’s got a long way to go to mend the department’s dismal reputation. Public opinion turned against the department in 2015 when a 25-year-old black man’s death in police custody triggered massive protests and riots. And confidence in police plummeted last year after it was revealed that corrupt detectives resold seized narcotics, conducted robberies and falsified evidence.
Harrison insisted that he will not tolerate corruption or misconduct.
“I promise to be the leader and the commissioner that the citizens and residents deserve, that they pay for and that they expect,” he said Tuesday.