RTD names Dr. Joel Fitzgerald Sr. as new police chief

DENVER — The Regional Transportation District (RTD) on Tuesday introduced Dr. Joel Fitzgerald Sr. as its new chief of police and emergency management, who will take over with 30 years of law enforcement experience.

Fitzgerald was selected after Deputy Chief Steve Martingano served as interim chief since March, when former chief Bob Grado stepped down from the job.

Fitzgerald comes to RTD a little more than two years after he was named police chief in Waterloo, Iowa, in May 2020. Prior to that, he was police chief in Fort Worth, Texas, where he was fired from the position. The city said it fired him for poor judgment and for applying to be Baltimore’s police chief, though Fitzgerald claimed he was investigating city hall corruption when he was fired, according to NBC DFW.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled last September that it would not reconsider an appeal from the city, essentially meaning that Fitzgerald’s lawsuit against the city over his firing can proceed.

Before he came to Fort Worth, he served as the Allentown, Pa., police chief from 2013 to 2015. He was police chief in Missouri City, Texas, from 2009 to 2013, and preceded his time there by serving 17 years with the Philadelphia Police Department, where he started his career in 1992.

From Philadelphia, Fitzgerald has a bachelor’s degree from Villanova, a master’s in business administration from Eastern University, and a Ph.D. in business administration from Northcentral University.

RTD names Dr. Joel Fitzgerald Sr. new police chief

In the four cities where he served as chief, Fitzgerald was the first Africa-American person to serve as chief. With RTD, he will oversee more than 600 police and security officers.

Fitzgerald and RTD CEO and General Manager Debra Johnson said Fitzgerald was committed to an inclusive community policing model that addressed the needs of users, officers, people experiencing homelessness and mental health crisis, and the communities in which RTD operates across the metro area.

Fitzgerald said one of the first things he and the agency wanted to do was get the department accredited, as he did the department in Fort Worth, and that he wanted accountability and innovation within the police department a “stalwart” of his efforts. He said he would work with law enforcement agencies in the area to do so and build a “gold standard in policing.”

He said he had spoken with RTD users while he was interviewing, who said they simply wanted to be safe and secure while using its transit services.

There has been a spate of crime in recent months involving RTD buses and parking lots. The agency unveiled a new plan for fighting crime at Union Station earlier this year. In March, an RTD security officer was attacked after violence against other RTD workers. On June 30, a man stabbed another man several times. In RTD parking lots, people have had gas, catalytic converters, and vehicles stolen.

Fitzgerald said one of his goals was to prevent more crime before it happens and said he was confident in his officers and other leadership to move the department forward in that regard.

“We’ve empowered our folks to be part of the problem-solving process. If we are a learning organization, we’ll be 10 times better than the day I walk out the door,” he said, adding that he would be available to be held accountable and answer questions from users of RTD.

“I set expectations high for interactions with people,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “It is important to be someone who beats crime and builds legitimacy and trust in the community.”

Johnson, RTD’s CEO, said that Fitzgerald’s prior positions and numerous accreditations show he is the right leader for the job.

“He builds coalitions, he is focused on strategic planning and he has expanded community policing everywhere he has served – all elements that are important to RTD,” she said in a statement “He is committed to the betterment of the community in this approach.”

Fitzgerald’s wife, Pauline, is a homicide detective for the district attorney’s office in Tarrant County, Texas, and one of their three children is an officer in Philadelphia.

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