Watch CBS News

WJZ Exclusive: Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison explains departure: 'I was not forced out'

WJZ Exclusive: Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison explains departure: 'I was not
WJZ Exclusive: Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison explains departure: 'I was not 04:08

BALTIMORE -- Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison spoke exclusively with WJZ News and The Baltimore Banner about why he left the department.


Harrison, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley spoke about the new changes in leadership in Baltimore City.

Harrison served four years as Baltimore's top cop after he was reeled in from New Orleans. He abruptly announced his resignation in June.

WJZ Exclusive: Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison explains departure 08:22

Worley has been filling in as the police department's acting commissioner and has been nominated by the mayor to fulfill the duties left by Harrison full-time.

Changes in Leadership

WJZ Anchor Denise Koch asked Harrison what prompted the decision, one which Harrison said was not as abrupt as it seems.  

The first thing Harrison said was, "I was not forced out."

Harrison said the decision was partially due to his satisfaction with the progress the department made during his leadership.

"In mid-May, I had prayed about the future of my career and my wife and I were talking about it," Harrison said. "I began to assess all the accomplishments that we made. When I looked back over the four years that I was here, it was apparent that we had accomplished many, if not most, of the goals that we set."

Harrison boasted that the City's crime rate had been reduced during his tenure.

"We had transformed this department in every aspect of the department. This department went from paperless to being totally digital," Harrison said. "(We added) new facilities, new vehicles, new technology, transformation and all of our policies, all of our training, all of our supervision, all of our discipline. This department is a remarkably very different department than it was four years ago."  

Harrison added that there's also been a reduction in violent crime, with murders and shootings across Baltimore.

He said the "time was now" to move on.

"I was not fired. This was my decision," Harrison said. "The mayor was totally gracious. We had a plan but we had to make an adjustment."

Harrison said he spent time training and cultivating leaders, including Worley and other deputy commissioners, and sending them to premiere leadership schools.

"I was convinced the time was now because, with this, you can only pass the torch when you are not in crisis," Harrison said. "This was the most opportune time to pass the torch."

Harrison said he met with the mayor in Mid-May about his future and why it was important to resign and pass the torch. 

"The mayor was very gracious and the mayor was very understanding and very accepting," Harrison said. "We then discussed a strategy for the timeline and the exit."

Harrison said he gave the mayor 90 days notice, but it was determined that the transition should start sooner rather than later.

"So that we can protect the morale which leads to performance, which leads to whether we can continue the momentum that we had gained, or we would lose it with uncertainty, and to do it sooner rather than later," Harrison said. "That's why it is called an abrupt decision to leave."

Still, before his resignation was official, he had to lead the department through the City's budget cycle, and make sure the department got the funds it needed.

Harrison dispelled rumors that he had other job opportunities on the table. 

That came after Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello questioned Harrison about the rumors at the budget hearing.

"That hearing was neither the place nor the time to announce my departure," Harrison said. "I answered it in the most delicate and diplomatic way possible. It would have created uncertainty about the department not knowing its future, and it would have made it inappropriate for me to preside over decisions, purchases, all of the day-to-day deployment situations.

"We had a plan, but that council meeting really turned things."

Then, in June, Harrison announced his departure at a press conference.

Mayor Scott said Harrison was influential in turning the police department, which had been suffering from the impact of the disgraced Gun Trace Task Force, around.

"BPD was the laughingstock of police departments in this country when he arrived," Mayor Scott said. "Now, you are seeing department after department visiting the Baltimore Police Department, federal government, the White House, they are sending people to learn from us. We owed it to Commissioner Harrison to tell the story in a more appropriate way, to talk about those successes and to build on those things."

One of Harrison's challenges, or accomplishments, is steering the department while navigating the consent decree. 

He said he informed the judge in charge, Judge James Brader, of his decision to leave soon after his first meeting with the mayor.

"He wanted me to give him assurances that the department would continue to move forward, there wouldn't be any drop or any gaps in consent decree compliance," Harrison said. "He was very supportive, very gracious, not angry in any way, just wanted to  make sure that the successes that we have seen continue."

Harrison, who came in as an outsider, said he made a promise to turn the department over to someone from Baltimore.

That torch was passed to acting BPD Commissioner Richard Worley, previously the deputy commissioner, who is from Baltimore's Pigtown community.

Worley said he found out the night before the announcement that he would serve in the interim.    

"We had heard the rumors everybody heard, heard the rumors," Worley said. "And we didn't know if he was gonna leave, but we knew that he had set several of us up to take over the agency and a seamless transition."

Worley added that he still looks to Harrison for advice in his leadership.  

"I still talk to Commissioner Harrison," Worley said. "Even if he's 10 years down the road, I will seek his advice for things because he's been a police commissioner for nine years."

When it came to selecting an interim commissioner, Harrison said Worley was among several recommendations that he gave the mayor, who publicly endorsed Worley.  

This comes as Baltimore has a 20 percent decrease in murders compared to last year.

Upon Worley's appointment as acting commissioner, the Fraternal Order of Police made public statements stating that Worley's focus should be on the shortage of police officers on the force.

Worley said a plan is already in the works. 

"We're going to start a lateral program where we want to see if any current officer somewhere wants to come and lateral to Baltimore City, and then we have thousands of dollars in recruitment dollars to try to get them here," Worley said.  

He also added that part of his strategy will be retaining current police officers and keeping morale high. 

The department is facing a shortage of hundreds of officers.

"It's going to take some time because you're not going to hire 100 officers today," Worley said. "it's going to be a year before they're on the street because of training. That's why it's important to keep everyone that we have and a lot of that will take place in the next couple of years to make sure we don't lose anything."

Worley will be nominated at the next council meeting and the process will begin.

However, there have been some questions about Worley not living in Baltimore City, which is required as a police commissioner.

He said he was waiting to see what happened with his appointment and that he and his wife are now actively looking for a home but interest rates are making that difficult.

As for Harrison, he said he has not received any other police chief offers, and that he plans to do some private consulting.

"I've been doing this since I was 21. I will never be done with law enforcement," Harrison said. "My focus is to do some private consulting. Consulting is my next career path."

Harrison also said he doesn't plan to leave Baltimore.

Denise, he found out that Maryland blue crabs are better than crawfish," Mayor Scott joked.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.