Baltimore County FOP issues vote of no confidence in police chief
In a letter, FOP President Dave Folderauer requested that Chief Melissa Hyatt be "immediately removed"
By Darcy Costello
The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE — The union representing Baltimore County police officers issued a vote of no confidence in police Chief Melissa Hyatt on Monday evening in a rare move signaling displeasure in the department’s top leadership.
The meeting of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4 was closed to the media, but FOP President Dave Folderauer wrote in a letter to County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. made public following the vote that the membership had “lost all faith and confidence in Melissa Hyatt.”
It goes on to request, on behalf of the FOP, that Olszewski “immediately remove” Hyatt as chief.
Olszewski said in an emailed statement Monday night that he remains “fully confident” in Hyatt and her ability to lead the Baltimore County Police Department.
“Under her leadership, the department has shifted to a more data-driven, community focused model of policing,” the statement said. “Violent crime declined by nearly 16 percent last year and homicides are down more than 50 percent so far this year.”
The police chief serves at the pleasure of the county executive, under the Baltimore County charter, which gives the executive the power to remove the leaders of any agencies in the executive branch. The County Council doesn’t have that power.
Hyatt, 46, is the department’s first female chief, leading an agency with nearly 2,000 sworn employees.
The FOP’s letter outlined reasons for the vote of no-confidence in her leadership, including a refusal to take questions at in-service training, lack of accessibility to membership, an unwillingness to directly work with FOP leadership on “underlying issues” and the hiring of leaders from outside of the county, which the letter argues led to a “lack of experience and knowledge concerning the history of the agency.”
The letter adds that Hyatt has “failed to adequately address the rise in crime in Baltimore County.” And it cites at least five sexual harassment or hostile work environment cases “involving members of the Executive Corps.” Those cases have not been made public.
It also lists two specific decisions the FOP has previously objected to: One is a vote Hyatt made in her role on the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission regarding a disciplinary process that the FOP argues would have “eliminated due process trial boards” for Maryland law enforcement.
The other is the reading of Sgt. Tia Bynum’s name at a recent memorial service for fallen police. The FOP called Bynum a “disgraced member of our department” and called her inclusion a “final blow to the morale” of the department.
Bynum was accused of being an accomplice to ex-Baltimore County officer Robert Vicosa in the kidnapping of his two daughters that led law enforcement on a four-day search in November. She, Vicosa and his two daughters were found dead last year in what officials have described as a murder-suicide by Vicosa.
A request for comment on the FOP vote sent to the police department was not immediately returned.
Folderauer, the union president, said the no-confidence vote was a voice vote, meaning there’s no official tally. But he said it was unanimous and estimated there were well over 100 members present.
Hyatt was nominated for the position by Olszewski in May 2019 following a national search. Olszewski praised her at the time as community-oriented and innovative, and said he hoped the department would embrace community policing, strengthen diversity and improve transparency under her leadership.
Her three years leading the department have included a pandemic, as well as a nationwide racial reckoning following the 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that spurred some local police reforms.
In recent years, the agency has faced scrutiny for the racial disparities in its traffic stops and several high-profile police killings. It also saw a record number of homicides in 2021, a pace that has slowed in 2022.
Hyatt noted at a budget hearing May 12 that, of last year’s record killings, 20% were behavioral health-related incidents, almost 20% were domestic or family disputes, and an additional 15% were arguments that escalated into violence. The county also saw two “multivictim casualty events,” she said.
“It was just a really difficult year for us,” Hyatt said.
Before her tenure in the county department, Hyatt worked for the Baltimore City Police for two decades, including as a sergeant on their tactical team and as chief of patrol and chief of special operations for the agency. She also worked as vice president for security at the Johns Hopkins University.
Hyatt grew up in Randallstown, the daughter of a Baltimore Police commander. She collects a $286,110 salary as chief.
Supporters, including former city police commissioner Kevin Davis, said at the time of her nomination that Hyatt had a relentless work ethic and that she’d “been through the fire.”
But some were dismayed an internal candidate wasn’t selected.
The Blue Guardians group, for instance, which represents minority officers supported a county police colonel for the chief position and wanted to see Olszewski appoint the county’s first Black chief. The group’s then-president said the city didn’t “represent the blue-ribbon standard on policing.”
The president of the county FOP at the time, Cole Weston, said some in the department felt strongly an internal candidate should have been chosen, but that he thought the county could benefit from an outside viewpoint.
Olszewski named women to run county public safety agencies, including police, fire, county corrections and the 911 call center. He said at a news conference he was “thrilled” by the “all-female public safety leadership team.”
The FOP’s vote of no confidence appears to be the first of its kind in recent Baltimore County history.
In early 1977, the county chapter of the FOP called for the county executive’s administration to replace Chief Joseph R. Gallen, and issued a verbal list of allegations of mismanagement, according to Baltimore Sun reporting.
The Theodore G. Venetoulis administration declined to fire the police chief because it determined the FOP allegations didn’t warrant it.
But after the resignation of two prominent members of the department, the Venetoulis administration initiated a review of Gallen’s leadership. The chief announced that he would resign in June 1977.
Hyatt replaced Chief Terrance Sheridan, who retired from the agency.
Sheridan returned to lead Baltimore County Police in 2017, when then-County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced that Chief Jim Johnson would be retiring. The announcement came as the department was in the spotlight over the deaths of Korryn Gaines and Tawon Boyd and its handling of sexual assault cases.
Sheridan served from 1996 to 2007, when Johnson took over.
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