Joel Fitzgerald made history in Waterloo, Iowa, after becoming the city’s first Black police chief in 2019. Now he’s facing some opposition from current and former officers in the town on a measure to potentially reform the department, AP News notes.
Fitzgerald, who began his law enforcement career in 1992, was slammed with criticism last fall after he and a few other City Council members began pushing for the department’s emblem to be removed. The report notes that the green-eyed, red-bodied griffin that has been emblazoned on the officer’s patches since the 1960s bears a striking resemblance to the Ku Klux Klan’s dragon symbol.
The council voted in favor of removing the symbol in a 5-2 vote earlier last week. The rule will go into effect at the end of September, but Fitzgerald’s historic feat didn’t go over well with his coworkers and some city residents.
“I don’t think there’s been any police chief in America in a small- or medium-sized department that has endured this for the reasons I have endured it, and I think the reasons have to do with race,” said Fitzgerald, who previously served as the chief of larger departments in Fort Worth, Texas and Allentown, Pa. “This is my fourth job being the first Black police chief. I’ve dealt with pushback in other places but never so overt. Never so nonfactual.”
Fitzgerald noted that he and his boss, Quentin Hart, the city’s first Black mayor, have received several threats and racist backlash following the controversial move. Some of the negative commentaries have come from a few of Fitzgerald’s predecessors, including City council member Margaret Klein, who wrote on her Facebook page that “the beatdown of our police officers continues,” adding that she was devasted by the removal of the “beloved 50-year patch design.” Klein also called for Fitzgerald’s resignation.
AP News adds that his opponents have also “attacked” everything from his “salary — which is in line with similar chiefs in Iowa — to his off-duty trips to visit family in Texas, where his teenage son continues treatment for a brain tumor that was removed in 2019.”
Waterloo officers see the symbol as a sign of their “vigilance” and have vehemently denied the racist intent behind the insignia’s imagery.
Back the Blue police advocacy group released a statement about the change, calling Quentin Hart a “radical mayor ” for supporting the emblem’s removal. The group also released an anonymous survey taken by a dozen retirees and current staff members of the department that showed all 98 members believed Fitzgerald wasn’t fit for his current position and that they didn’t feel supported by the administration.