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New Interim Phoenix Police Chief Oversaw Reform in Baltimore

PHOENIX (AP) — A law enforcement official overseeing police reform in Baltimore has been tapped to lead the Phoenix Police Department, which has been the subject of a wide-ranging civil rights investigation.

Michael Sullivan, the deputy commissioner of compliance in Baltimore, will join the Phoenix agency in September as interim chief. He’s expected to serve up to two years while the city — the fifth largest in the U.S. — searches for a permanent chief.

The U.S. Department of Justice is looking into whether officers in Phoenix have used excessive force, abused people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness, engaged in discriminatory policing practices and retaliated against people exercising free speech, which is protected under the First Amendment. The investigation began last August.

Current Phoenix police Chief Jeri Williams announced in May that she’s retiring after a 33-year career in law enforcement, including six as chief. She’s expected to help Sullivan transition into the job.

Phoenix City Manager Jeff Barton announced Sullivan’s hire Thursday, noting his work in police reform.

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“His experience working in collaboration with communities, the DOJ, federal court and more gives me confidence he has the experience necessary to step into the interim Phoenix Police Chief role during this important time,” Barton said in a statement.

Barton said input from the community, officers, elected officials and labor groups will be part of the process in choosing a permanent police chief.

Phoenix Law Enforcement Association President Darrell Kriplean said while the group wasn’t included in the selection of Sullivan, it looks forward to meeting Sullivan and working on pressing issues facing the department.

Sullivan started in law enforcement at the Louisville Metro Police Department in Kentucky nearly 30 years ago. He joined the Baltimore police agency in 2019 as deputy commissioner and has overseen compliance with a federal consent decree that requires Baltimore to overhaul its practices since June 2021. A recent progress report noted substantial progress but said considerable work remains.

Baltimore has been under federal oversight since 2017 after the Justice Department released a scathing report detailing longstanding patterns of racial profiling and excessive force. The federal review was prompted by the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man whose neck was broken in the back of a transport wagon, and whose death roiled the city.

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