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Baltimore County Council unanimously appoints McCullough as first Black police chief

John Lee
Baltimore County Police Chief Robert McCullough, fourth from the left, and the County Council following his confirmation vote.

Robert McCullough retired from the Baltimore County Police Department in 2021 as a colonel after 35 years on the force.

He returns to the department as Baltimore County’s top cop.

The County Council Monday night on a 7-0 vote approved County Executive Johnny Olszewski’s nomination of McCullough to be police chief.

Before the vote, McCullough told council members that when he met with each of them individually, he listened to every word they said to him about the public safety issues in their districts

"I pledge to you that the police department will address them," McCullough said. "We will not only hear what you're saying, we will listen to everything that you're saying."

Council members sang McCullough's praises for having the experience needed to run the department.

"It's important that we have someone that's from the agency who understands Baltimore County and our diverse population, and just all the different needs that we have across the county," said Mike Ertel, a Democrat, who represents District 6.

After the vote, Olszewski left his office to greet McCullough outside the council chambers and congratulate him. Olszewski said the chief hit the ground running before he was confirmed Monday night.

"He's already out there talking to the men and women of our amazing department, telling his story but also listening to what they need to move this department forward," Olszewski said.

McCullough said improving the department's morale and creating an environment where people enjoy coming to work will help him address the need to hire more officers.

"It's important to have your people recruit for you because your own people in your agency are your lifeblood," McCullough said. "They're the ones that drive the organization."

McCullough will be sworn in Tuesday. He is the county’s 16th police chief.

The new chief will make $275,000 a year and will not receive his retirement pension while serving in the role, according to a county spokesperson. He will be the county’s highest paid employee.

McCullough’s appointment as the county’s first Black police chief has been on the fast track. He was nominated by Olszewski less than two weeks ago.

At that announcement, McCullough fought back tears as he spoke of the historic nature of his nomination.

"Some would say the chance for someone who looked like me, an 18-year-old kid from West Baltimore, to become chief of police in Baltimore County, was less than zero," McCullough said. "At that time there were fewer than 80 African American officers in the department. I remember when I was the only African American on my shift. That reality always motivated me to be the best that I could be at everything that I did."

The selection of McCullough, who is 56, comes following a nationwide search.

He will replace Melissa Hyatt. Olszewski picked Hyatt to be chief in 2019. She was the first woman to hold that position. Last November, Olszewski said Hyatt would leave the job but did not say why.

McCullough lost out to Hyatt for the position four years ago.

Hyatt had lost the support of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4. In May 2022, the police union gave Hyatt a vote of no confidence, saying officers were frustrated by her lack of leadership.

Since Hyatt left the office, Dennis Delp, a 28-year veteran of the police department, has been serving as interim police chief. He initially said he wanted the job permanently, then backed off, he said, for personal reasons.

McCullough has lived in Baltimore County for more than 30 years. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science and a Master’s of Science in Management from Johns Hopkins University.

His formal education also includes Johns Hopkins University’s Police Executive Leadership Program and Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Police Staff and Command.

"I'm excited about going back to our proactive law enforcement efforts, fighting crime in the county, because that's first and foremost and that's what our citizens expect," McCullough said.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2