Anthony Batts is out as Commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department. At a press conference at City Hall Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Batts’ role in the top job was becoming a distraction from Baltimore’s efforts to curb the murder rate.
“Recent events have put an intense focus on our police leadership, distracting many from what needs to be our main focus: The fight against crime,” Rawlings-Blake said. “So we need a change.”
Kevin Davis, the former chief of the Anne Arundel County Police Department who was serving as Deputy Commissioner of BPD, was appointed as Interim Commissioner, effective Wednesday. Davis, who also served as assistant chief in Prince George’s County, said he would focus on community policing.
“It’s all about the crime fight and it’s all about the relationship with our community, and the relationship with our community needs to be one of service,” Davis said at the press conference.
Batts, who was hired by SRB in 2012 after leaving the top post in Oakland’s police department, received accolades from Rawlings-Blake and Davis despite the decision. Davis said Batts was one of only several police chiefs in the country that could be called a reform commissioner.
“Tony Batts is at the top of that list,” he said.
Asked by Jayne Miller what changed in the relationship between Batts and the mayor, Rawlings-Blake focused on the effort to fight crime and make Baltimore safer. The firing followed a quadruple shooting near the University of Maryland Baltimore campus that left three people dead. Crime has been on the rise since the riots, with the number of people dying violently especially high. The Baltimore Crime and Homicide’s count has the murder toll currently totaling 156 for the year, with 82 people killed since Gray’s death.
On Tuesday, the police department also issued a statement guaranteeing that its stations would be accessible 24 hours a day. The edict followed a Baltimore Sun op-ed in which resident Connor Meek detailed a runaround from police, including an officer’s claim that the Southern District station was closed from 7 p.m. – 7 a.m.
It’s equally not lost on anyone that Batts’ firing comes just a couple of months after the riots that followed Freddie Gray’s funeral. Hours before Batts was fired, Baltimore’s police union issued a report about the department leadership’s handling of the riots that called the violence “preventable.” The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 report, known as an “After Action Review,” said police officers lacked training and equipment to deal with the violent crowds, and were limited in their response by police department commanders that ordered them to hold back and clear all arrests with BPD’s legal department.
The FOP report also specifically calls out Batts. One finding states, “Commissioner Batts seeks to divide the BPD rather than divide it.” The report also says Rawlings-Blake could do more to support the rank-and-file.
Even before firing Batts, however, SRB didn’t indicate that the riots were the reason. The mayor’s office released a statement condemning the report, calling it a “trumped up political document full of baseless accusations, finger pointing and personal attacks.”
At the afternoon press conference, Rawlings-Blake was asked if there is any connection between the report and Batts’ firing.
“I don’t think many who know me would suggest I would do anything to placate the FOP,” she said.
City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young also focused on the crime fight, saying in a statement that it “became increasingly clear that a growing lack of confidence in the direction of our city’s crime-fighting strategy had the potential to severely damage the long-term health of our city.”