Reporting Mike Hellgren
BALTIMORE (WJZ)– A surprise announcement from Baltimore city’s top cop: He is leaving the force.
Mike Hellgren tells us why Commissioner Fred Bealefeld is stepping down.
Bealefeld will retire in August, he says, to spend more time with loved ones.
“This was a very tough decision for me and for my family, but now is the right time for me to bring my career with the Baltimore Police Department to a close,” Bealefeld said in a statement. “I am very proud of the men and women of the BPD for all that we have been able to accomplish together over the last five years, and I am looking forward to enjoying retirement with my family and close friends.”
Bealefeld spent most of his life working on the force, the last four and a half years at the top. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon put him there.
“He’s such a special person for the job,” Dixon said. “He is going to be missed. When I chose him to be commissioner, I knew he was the right person for the job.”
It’s surprise move, he told WJZ. Just months ago, he had no plans to leave.
“This is who I am. This is what I do, and I still love doing it,” he said on Dec. 31, 2011.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued her own statement.
“Commissioner Bealefeld has been a great public servant for the people of Baltimore throughout his entire career in the Baltimore Police Department, and we owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.” she said. “While I am saddened to announce his retirement, I respect his decision to retire after decades of service to spend more time with his family. I know he loves the job and was proud to serve with honesty and integrity for these many years. He has been an extremely effective leader that we will miss, and we wish him the best retirement.”
Bealefeld has seen success under his watch. The murder rate is down dramatically. But the department has also been hit with several high-profile corruption scandals.
“There were challenges out there for him. Overall, though, I think he was a good public servant,” Carl Stokes, Baltimore City councilman from District 12, said.
“I hate to see him go,” said Mary Pat Clarke, Baltimore City councilwoman from District 14. “He’s a real pillar in this community, kind of holding us up.”
The nationwide search for a new commissioner will begin immediately. The mayor’s office says Bealefeld will assist the next commissioner with the transition.
Known for tough talk and a focus on the worst of the worst offenders–people he called “knuckleheads” and “bad guys with guns”–Bealefeld earned praise for reducing the city’s murder rate dramatically.
“I have a lot of things left to do in this police department. I love the men and women who work here. They’re out there while here having this conversation. They’re risking their lives for people they don’t know. No one else does that,” Bealefeld said.
He dealt with corruption, too–personally taking the badges of officers involved in a towing scheme that ripped off unsuspecting drivers.
And he changed the way plainclothes cops are trained after officers shot one of their own in chaos outside a nightclub.
He also faced criticism for getting involved in politics and placing a campaign sign in his yard supporting Gregg Bernstein for state’s attorney.
Through it all, Bealefeld has repeatedly told WJZ he’s proud of the force he leads.
He summed up his work this way: “Until people can look out their window from the place that they live and feel that sense of security, we haven’t gotten the job done.”
Looking back on an interview WJZ did with Bealefeld shortly before he was confirmed at the top job, he said it’s something that he wanted but if there was someone better he would step aside.
Bealefeld saw a great reduction in the city’s murder rate during his tenure. Last year, officials say Baltimore experienced the fewest number of homicides since 1977.