Dallas police veteran Malik Aziz has been named the next chief of the Prince George’s County Police Department, bringing with him a strong reputation as a reform-focused leader and a vow to prioritize community policing.

Aziz was announced as the force’s new chief at a news conference Friday afternoon with Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D), who hired an outside headhunting firm to conduct a search and solicit input from community members.

Aziz, who is currently deputy chief of the department in Dallas, will take the helm as the county faces an increase in homicides, ushers in police department changes in the wake of social justice protests nationwide, and wrestles with a discrimination lawsuit that alleges the department unfairly punishes officers of color and doesn’t properly investigate complaints of racism.

“I want the citizens and the officers of Prince George’s County to understand what type of police chief I will be, and that is one of communication and high visibility,” Aziz said Friday.

The county police department, which employs about 1,500 sworn officers and 300 civilians in the Washington suburb of nearly 1 million, has been without a permanent leader for nine months. Hector Velez has been serving as interim chief.

On Friday, Alsobrooks praised Aziz for his 29-year record in law enforcement, which she called “unblemished,” and said his determination to become a national leader in police reform made him an ideal candidate for the job. He will start the job May 9.

Aziz served as the national chair of the National Black Police Association and caught the attention of President Barack Obama for his contributions to the task force on 21st century policing in 2015. He advocated for the Justice Department to collect annual demographic statistics from all police agencies to hold them accountable for diversifying their command ranks, according to the task force’s final report.

Aziz said that the nation is in the throes of a “reformation era” defined by a crisis in police-community relations. He stressed that local actions can “form a blueprint and an action for positive policing with 19,000 police departments around this great nation.”

He also vowed to work with police associations, prioritize the safety and wellness of officers and be accessible to the community in Prince George’s.

“They are going to see me, they are going to hear from me, they are going to know they have a police chief they can call and contact,” he said.

Aziz has been a finalist for chief positions in cities across the country, including Milwaukee, Miami and his hometown of Dallas. In interviews with local news organizations, he has echoed the language that activists and reformists have used when talking about reimagining public safety. Several community organizers and reform advocacy groups endorsed him for those chief jobs.

Changa Higgins, a candidate for Dallas City Council, said he was part of the panel that interviewed Aziz over the winter to become the city’s chief of police. While Dallas gave the job to Eddie Garcia, who recently retired as chief of the San Jose (Calif.) Police Department, Higgins said Aziz was his choice for the job.

“I felt like he out-classed all the rest of the candidates,” Higgins said. “He impressed me with his knowledge of police oversight. He impressed me with his knowledge of what it meant to say we should reimagine policing.”

Higgins said Aziz consistently showed up to community meetings and forums. When asked during the interview process about defunding police, Aziz was the only candidate who agreed with the concept and had “real tangible things that could actually happen right now to begin that process,” Higgins said.

Aziz is the county’s first permanent police chief since June, when Police Chief Hank Stawinski resigned the same day a lengthy report outlining allegations of discrimination was filed in court in an ongoing federal lawsuit brought against the county by more than a dozen Black and Hispanic officers.

Prince George’s County Council Chair Calvin Hawkins (D-At-Large) said Aziz is well-positioned to rebuild trust between the police department and the community, which Hawkins said is the lowest he has seen in years.

“He has a sense of the moment,” said Hawkins, who was involved in selecting the finalists. “He’s going to be a reformer.”

Hawkins said Aziz seems to both understand the nuances of challenges in Prince George’s and the ways in which changes made in the county could affect national conversations about policing.

Throughout his career in Dallas, where he has served on the force for nearly 30 years, Aziz has navigated difficult tensions of his own, working to build relationships with the community and helping to lead the department in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest walk in 2016 that left seven people dead, including five officers.

Aziz spoke about his relationship with the Latino community in Dallas, saying he ran special programs in high-population, high-crime neighborhoods for Spanish speakers and delivered brochures and crime statistics in Spanish.

Gustavo Torres, the executive director of Casa de Maryland, said he is optimistic that Aziz will rebuild trust between the police and the county’s Latino population. Torres said that relationship needs work after years of racial profiling and instances in which Prince George’s police have collaborated with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain residents.

Torres, who met Friday with Aziz, said he the new chief has experience working with the large Latino population in Dallas and understands the needs of the community.

“He is like a breath of fresh air in Prince George’s,” Torres said.

Other community organizations and the police union expressed frustration that they were not involved in the process of naming the next chief of police — learning the name of the new chief on Friday.

“I’m encouraged by ... Aziz’s commitment to strengthen police-community relations and appreciated his statements on being a community partner,” said Krystal Oriadha, who co-founded PG Change Makers after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. “However because of the gross lack of real community input in his selection I have reservations on how he’ll achieve his goals without creating relationships with community organizations as soon as possible.”

Alsobrooks said the nine-month national search collected 3,500 responses to a community survey asking for feedback on priorities for the next leader of the department. The county executive said she consulted with civic associations, homeowners associations, the county council, faith leaders and her appointed police reform work group.

Alsobrooks also said she sat down with the finalists at the end of a “thorough” interviewing process and was impressed with Aziz’s record before she even met him. She said his experience outside of the county was a “tremendous asset.”

“I thought we needed a fresh look, fresh eyes, fresh experience,” she said. “I thought it was a great asset to have someone with his combination of experiences.”

Aziz has spoken publicly about the importance of engaging children in the communities where police patrol, and he was instrumental in revitalizing the Police Athletic Activities League in Dallas.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice from the University of Texas at Arlington and later received his MBA from the University of Dallas. Aziz has been with the Dallas Police since 1992 and has held an array of titles inside and outside the department.

“Although a loss for our Department and the City of Dallas, this is a great achievement for Malik and a gain for Prince George’s County,” said Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia in a statement. “I wish Malik the best and am hopeful to collaborate with him around the Major Cities Chiefs association table.”