As the new Baltimore police chief takes over, he is beset with problems, including a demoralized and alienated police department undergoing an investigation by the Justice Department, and a city with a spiraling homicide rate.
Since the start of the year, there have been 156 murders in
“It’s the toughest job in the United States at the
moment,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at the John Jay
College of Criminal Justice in New York and a former New York
City police officer, according to the Associated Press.
“You need a chief who can, first and foremost, drive everyone
toward common ground.”
When former Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts was fired
on Wednesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said it was because
he was too divisive and his presence too damaging. Batts’ Deputy
Kevin Davis is the interim replacement, but he has also indicated
that he would like to remain in the position permanently,
according to AP.
Davis is taking on a department where six of his officers are
facing criminal charges over the death of Freddie Gray, a
25-year-old African-American who died of a spine injury sustained
while in police custody. His death led to weeks of protests and a
riot that caused an estimated $20 million in damages, as well as
a worsening of relations between police and residents.
Davis’ experience in law enforcement is in suburban Baltimore and
Washington, according to Reuters, not Baltimore city. The
city has a population of more than 600,000, of which about 63
percent are African-Americans. In the most crime-ridden
neighborhoods, residents have a long history of mistrusting the
Davis said this first order of business is appointing someone to
focus on the riot response.
“We have a profession with authority that no other profession
has,” Davis said in an interview with AP.
“We can take a person’s freedom away, and that’s a huge and
awesome responsibility. We can take a human life if justification
exists to do so,” he added. “With that responsibility
and authority comes a huge amount of oversight and
second-guessing at times. That’s not new to law enforcement.
Where we are in this moment in time is, we have to engage in a
great deal of self-examination, and look at how we can do things
The firing of Batts came on the same day the police union, which
represents 2,800 rank-and-file officers, released a critical
report on the commissioner’s response to the riot that led to
looting, arson and vandalism. Roughly 200 officers were injured
during the riots, and the report claims Batts discouraged
officers from wearing protective gear and told them not to engage
“The officers characterized the Baltimore Police Department’s
leadership during the riots as unprepared, politically motivated
and uncaring and confusing,” Gene Ryan, president of the
police union, told the AP.
Davis’ appointment is the latest in a rapid turnover of police
commissioners. He will become the city’s seventh in 15 years. His
promotion also comes as the Justice Department, following the
death of Gray, is investigating whether the Baltimore Police
Department engaged in discriminatory practices, including
unlawful stops and excessive force.