In a move many people considered inevitable, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore fired Police Commissioner Anthony W Batts today, the New York Times reports. She said a recent crime surge in the city was the primary reason for seeking his immediate replacement.
“Recent events have placed an intense focus on our police leadership, distracting many from what needs to be our main focus: the fight against crime. So we need a change,” the Times quoted the mayor as saying. “This was not an easy decision but it’s one that is in the best interest of the people of Baltimore.”
But she also commended him “for his service to Baltimore City” at a news conference, citing improvements in transparency and accountability, according to a report in the Baltimore Sun. “Over the past three years, Commissioner Batts has served our city with distinction,” she said.
Mr Batts was subject to strong criticism following unrest in Baltimore in April, following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. The unrest turned into riots and arson across much of the city, and six officers have been indicted in Mr. Gray’s death.
The city’s police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, released a report earlier today, a report that is highly critical of the department’s handling of the riots. Since that time, the number of homicides in the city has been on the rise. In May, 42 homicides were committed within city boundaries, making it the deadliest month in 25 years. June’s total wasn’t quite as high, but it is still unacceptable.
The Times quoted the report as saying officers involved in the response to the riots said they “lacked basic riot equipment, training and, as events unfolded, direction from leadership.”
His interim replacement, Kevin Davis, is a veteran law enforcement officer who’s a “relative newcomer to the city,” according to the Baltimore Sun. He has spent most of his career in the suburbs in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties.
“Everything he touches turns to gold,” said Jamie Benoit about Mr Davis. He served on the Anne Arundel County Council when Mr Davis was the police chief there. “I think Baltimore is going to be a tough, tough job for him, but he’s totally up to the test.”