A law enforcement official responsible for overseeing Baltimore’s police reforms will soon take over as the Phoenix Police Department’s interim chief in the midst of a federal civil rights probe into the agency.
Law enforcement veteran Michael Sullivan will take over as the interim chief of Phoenix police in September after working for several years as a deputy commissioner with the BPD’s compliance bureau.
During his stint in Baltimore, Sullivan oversaw the implementation of police reforms and was said to have made substantial improvements to the department, according to federal progress reports.
The plan is for Sullivan to serve as interim chief for two years while the department searches for a permanent chief.
The move comes after current Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams announced her retirement in May after six years in the position and 33 years in law enforcement. She said she plans to help Sullivan make the transition.
Phoenix City Manager Jeff Barton said that Sullivan was tapped due to his work with federal agencies in the past.
“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.
The change in leadership is also intended to help the department navigate through a DOJ investigation that began in August 2021 to determine whether Phoenix officers used excessive force or abused people with disabilities or those experiencing homelessness, or if officers engaged in discriminatory policing practices and retaliated against people exercising their right of free speech.
Barton said that the department would select its permanent chief based on input from the community, officers, elected officials and labor groups.
When asked why other parties were not consulted when recruiting an interim chief, the city stated that “there was an immediate need” for someone with “a specific set of qualifications” to guide the department through the DOJ probe.
Darrell Kriplean, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association — a nonprofit organization and police union — said that the group was not included in discussions to hire Sullivan but looks forward to meeting him and solving problems facing the department.
Sullivan began his law enforcement career nearly 30 years ago at the Louisville Metro Police Department in Kentucky. In 2019, he joined the Baltimore Police Department as deputy commissioner and oversaw the department’s compliance with a federal consent decree requiring the city to overhaul its policing practices and implement federal reforms.
Baltimore has been the target of federal investigations since 2017, after the DOJ released a report that detailed a high rate of racial profiling and excessive force. The federal review came after the death of Freddie Gray, whose neck was broken in the back of a transport wagon.
The city council will vote on details related to Sullivan’s contract within the next few weeks.