I like Chief Pristoop. He is an effective leader. He has an impressive resume. He was a great pick for Annapolis after the prior Chief left the department in less than stellar shape. But the Chief is feeling pressure now and most likely he, like many others, will be a political casualty of Mayor Mike Pantelides who is already deep into a re-election campaign.
In 2013, from a public safety angle, the City was in pretty good shape. There was no need for immediate change. But in 2016 a lot has changed. There was a gunfight in Eastport where more than 30 shots were fired in the middle of the night with no suspects. Crime in HACA public housing developments is spilling into the City. Rapes have increased more than 200% and most are happening in the vaunted Ward 1. Heroin overdoses and deaths are increasing and robberies have increased city-wide with no apparent abatement in sight.
The Caucus of African American Leaders has called for investigations into what they term “systemic racism” within the department alleging that black officers are held to a different standard than their white counterparts.
Recently, a Federal suit was filed against the department, two officers, and the City for false arrest. The plaintiff alleges that the officers illegally detained him, assaulted him and called him racial epithets.
Once news of this broke, The Capital discovered that there had been similar claims against the City and the majority of them were settled without ever going to court, or really into the public eye.
The allegations are further supported when it was discovered that one of the officers named in the current Federal suit altered an arrest warrant to change the race of a suspect to match a name. The wrong man was arrested and detained and quickly released. He also sued and the City also settled with him.
To a degree, we can attribute the lawsuits to a few bad apples within the department, but it is the Chief’s responsibility to manage the department. In fact, after the officer was found liable for altering an arrest warrant, he received a promotion and was never formally reprimanded.
The residents of Eastport are looking for answers to the gunfire that has become a near-daily event and little has been done. With the unique relationship between HACA and the City, sometimes progress is non-existent. Chief Pristoop wants to re-instate a banning list to keep known criminals away from public housing. This seems like a prudent option. However, HACA Executive Director Emeritus and Civil Rights Activist, Carl Snowden is vehemently opposed to any type of banning. And while Snowden (whom Pantelides tried to remove) has no voting authority on the HACA Board, he does wield considerable weight with the majority of the Board.
And we cannot forget the time when the Chief made national news when he testified against the decriminalization of marijuana and cited an article in TheDaily Currant to substantiate “37 overdose deaths from marijuana” on the first day of legalization in Colorado.
When you add this all together, this begins to look like a political liability for a Mayor who only won his office by a scant 59 votes. The Mayor is likely to face Democratic challenges from current Aldermen Ian Pfeiffer and Joe Budge. We have also heard that there is a Republican looking to put up a primary challenge as well.
Pantelides has a solid chance for re-election on the “I didn’t screw anything up too bad” platform (one that has successfully won that office many times before); but there are some critical decisions he will face. During his first term, he vowed to stop Crystal Spring and voters want to hold him to that. He is doing what he can to delay approvals until after the election, but that is 18 months away. He has a mess in the Harbormasters office that will become messier. His brokered deal for the old Fawcett’s building is running into problems. His attempt at wresting control over the business community via the merger of Main Streets Annapolis Partnership and the former Annapolis Business Association appears to be crumbling. Now, add in the public safety issue and something likely will have to give.
Will it be Chief Pristoop? While I think he should be retained, I do think the Mayor will see him as a liability and ask for his resignation in the coming weeks. If tendered, that will present yet another problem for Pantelides–will a new Chief want to come on board for what may very well be an 18 month job should the Mayor lose the election. It did not work out too well for former Anne Arundel County Fire and Police Chiefs Kevin Davis and Michael Cox. In fact the Mayor had a difficult time finding replacements for the City Manager and Planning and Zoning Director for that exact reason.
Time will tell. The elections are well under way. In fact the Mayor is hosting “A Salute To The Mayor” on Thursday night at the Byzantium Center on Riva Road.