Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III told a group of South Baltimore residents Wednesday night that he considers them "family" and has their best interests at heart as he looks to select a new district commander.
Bealefeld spoke to about 50 residents at the Southern District police station, a meeting that came one week after popular commander Scott Bloodsworth opted to retire rather than accept a new assignment overseeing reforms in the department's sex offense unit, which Bealefeld said was in "crisis."
The change, and Bloodsworth's decision to leave despite being offered his district post back, had fueled speculation among some community leaders that Bloodsworth's initial transfer was a result of political subterfuge.
Bealefeld spoke of his ties to the neighborhood, including his mother's home in a Brooklyn housing project, the church where he was baptized and to his tenure leading the district years ago after being sent by a commissioner who he said hoped Bealefeld would fail.
Bealefeld said he considered Bloodsworth his "ace" and had passed him over for other promotions so Bloodsworth could remain in the Southern District. But he felt the current situation with the sex offense unit required him to turn to one of his most trusted leaders. The Baltimore Sun reported last month that the city has led the country for years in the percentage of rape claims deemed false by detectives, while four in 10 emergency calls do not generate a report at all. The mayor called for an audit and has established a hot line for victims.
"Right now there are very few issues that are a bigger deal inside the Police Department that are captivating my attention," Bealefeld said.
Residents, including Betty Bland-Thomas of the Sharp Leadenhall Community and Paul Robinson of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, praiseed Bloodsworth and said his absence threatened the district's stability. Despite Bealefeld's appeal, many said they still believed there was more to the story and that the sequence of events didn't add up.
Bealefeld acknowledged receiving an e-mail documenting a Locust Point resident's concerns about crime in the neighborhood, but he scoffed at speculation that moving Bloodsworth was part of an elaborate scheme to force the commander out.
"Why would I set myself up for failure like that?" he said. "We still don't have anybody to fix" the problems with the sex offense unit.
Though frustrated, residents pledged to work with acting Maj. Margaret Barillaro, who Bealefeld said has his confidence.
"Margaret will take care of us as long as we support her," said Jack Baker, president of the district's police community relations council.
>> Most recent updates Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts