Aug 25, 2022 - News

RTD's new police chief comes with a prickly past

RTD police chief Joel Fitzgerald Sr. poses for a portrait outside Union Station. Photo courtesy of RTD

The Regional Transportation District's newly appointed police chief is bringing some baggage to Denver.

Driving the news: RTD officials this week named Joel Fitzgerald Sr. to lead the district's small safety arm, which spans eight counties and 40 cities across the metro.

  • The Philadelphia native has master's and doctorate degrees in business administration, plus three decades of law enforcement experience — including serving as police chief in four cities.

Yes, but: The last three years of Fitzgerald's public safety career have proven prickly.

Fitzgerald resigned earlier this month as police chief in Waterloo, Iowa — a little more than two years into the job — amid backlash that drew national attention to his attempts to reform the agency.

  • Among the changes he ordered was the removal of insignia that resembled a Ku Klux Klan dragon. Other moves included department-wide bans on chokeholds and racial profiling.
  • Fitzgerald, Waterloo's first Black police chief, said at the time that the attacks were driven by racism and misinformation.

What else: In 2019, city leaders in Fort Worth, Texas, fired Fitzgerald, who had led their police force for nearly four years, to do what was "best" for the community and the department.

  • Local officials said he had shown failures as chief, and claimed a confrontation between him and a state union official at a national conference was the final straw.
  • Fitzgerald has since filed a whistleblower lawsuit which remains ongoing, he told Denver reporters on Tuesday. He claims he was targeted for investigating city employees' use of a sensitive federal law enforcement database.

What they're saying: ​​"The one thing that I expect out of every police officer is to demonstrate integrity, even when no one's looking. And as the chief of police, you can count on me doing the right thing when no one's looking," Fitzgerald told reporters at a Tuesday news briefing.

Of note: In 2019, Fitzgerald withdrew his name from a bid to be Baltimore's police commissioner after the Baltimore Sun revealed he overstated some of the achievements on his resume.

  • Misrepresentations included his role in lowering crime rates, improving racial profiling reporting and overseeing a body camera program.
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