Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts was fired Wednesday afternoon by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. The move came hours after a scathing report by the city’s police union criticized Batts’ handling of riots in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death in April, though Rawlings-Blake insisted the firing had nothing to do with the unrest.
The mayor said the move was prompted by a spike in the city’s homicide rate. Baltimore’s murder rate is nearly 50 percent higher than this time last year.
Rawlings-Blake said Batts served with distinction. She credited him with modernizing the police department, putting more officers on the street during peak crime periods and increasing transparency and accountability.
The mayor hired Batts because of his record as a reformer in departments in California and recently reiterated her support of him. But that changed because of “recent events.”
“The focus has been too much on the leadership of the department and not enough on the crime fight,” she said.
Batts was heavily criticized with department commanders in a report released by the Fraternal Order of Police on the riots. The report concluded that “a passive stance” was adopted during two days of unrest; April 25 and April 27. It also accused Batts of seeking to divide the department rather than unite it.
The mayor said Batts’ handling of the riots had nothing to do with his dismissal, and rejected assertions that the police union’s report played into her decision.
“I don’t think many who know me would suggest that I would do anything to placate the FOP,” she said.
Batts offered no immediate public comment on his ouster. He will be paid $190,000 as part of a severance package.
City Council Vice President Ed Reisinger was among the first to call for Batts’ resignation following the FOP report, and welcomed the news of his termination.
“I feel great. I feel great for the citizens of the Baltimore because I think it’s way overdue,” he said.
While he was concerned about the response to the riots, the last straw for him was reading about a Baltimore Sun op-ed from a citizen who could not report a crime at a police station because it was closed.
“The police stations is a sanctuary; it’s a place that if something happens, you go there,” he added.
The department has since ordered stations to be open 24 hours a day.
Councilman Carl Stokes also said Batts should resign, but for the safety of the citizens and overall good of the city.
“I said [Batts should professionally assess the situation] and say ‘I’ve done a good job; I’ve done as best I could do in this city but I’m becoming overwhelmed,” Stokes said.
He added the mayor felt she had to “cut the tie” after it became clear that Batts no longer had the support and confidence of the rank and file.
Davis Named Interim Commissioner
Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has been appointed as interim commissioner.
Davis, who has only been with the department since January, says he aims to build up community relationships and bringing down levels of violent crime.
"My focuses for the future are pretty simple. It's all about the crime fight and the relationship with our community," he said.
Previously, Davis served as police chief in Anne Arundel County, coming in after political scandals involving a county executive and a police chief. Before that, he was assistant chief in Prince George's County. He joined the Prince George's department in 1992 and worked his way up the ranks.
Davis has spoken out in the past following controversy over police use of force.
Last summer, as Anne Arundel’s top cop, Davis issued a news release disagreeing with the county Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70 over that police union's decision to donate $1,070 to a defense fund for Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown last August.
Davis said he'd heard from "many outraged citizens" who mistakenly thought the police department was making the donation. He said he attended a local NAACP rally about Ferguson and that "policing in the 21st century requires strong relationships with all of our residents."
Davis said he didn't support that union's action, though he understood a need for due process for Wilson. "There are occasions when a police chief will agree to disagree" with the police union head, Davis said in his statement last summer. "This is one of those of those moments."
In accepting his new role as the interim head of Baltimore’s police department, Davis promised to mend relations between the top brass and the rank and file.
“My message to the rank and file is that I will walk with them, I will serve with them and I intend on being with them every step of the way as we focus on the crime fight and our relationships with the community,” Davis said.