Baltimore’s Jewish community lauded Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s decision to replace Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts last week amid mounting pressure to get violent crime in the city under control.
“There is no one better to access what needs to be done than the person who the police commissioner reports to,” Baltimore Jewish Council Executive Director Arthur Abramson said. “I believe very strongly that something needed to be done to stem the increased number of homicides in the city, and I hope that the new interim police commissioner quickly gets a handle on what needs to be done and does it.”
Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis, who previously served as Anne Arundel County’s police chief, was named interim commissioner.
The announcement followed months of unrest since the death of Freddie Gray, who sustained injuries while in police custody — May was Baltimore’s deadliest month in 40 years — and increasing public scrutiny of the city’s efforts to stem the violence.
“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,” Rawlings-Blake said at a news conference on Wednesday, July 8. “The people of Baltimore deserve better.”
She gave Batts credit for serving the city with “distinction.”
“Through a broad range of initiatives he helped modernize our police force, he helped put more cops on the streets during peak periods of crime and he brought more transparency and accountability to policing in Baltimore City,” she said.
Members of the Jewish community thought the mayor made the right decision.
“There seems to be a disconnect between the rank and file and members of various communities and the commissioner,” said Nathan Willner, spokesman for Shomrim of Baltimore.
He said Shomrim and other members of the Jewish community met with the commissioner several times.
“He was very receptive on many of the issues that we brought to him. He had made several commitments that he was going to try to implement. Unfortunately, those commitments were not fulfilled,” Willner said, adding that he thinks it could have been due to the nature of the job or other issues in the city taking precedent. “People in the community were hoping to have a closer and more proactive relationship with the commissioner.”
Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said that while Batts was open to ideas, engaging and experienced and served to the best of his ability, the city must do what it can to quickly restore the community’s trust in police officers.
“As I’ve recently crisscrossed the city, connecting one-on-one with citizens and members of our police force, 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,” he said in a statement.
Del. Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg cited New York City, which had a rift between its leaders and police officers after two were shot and killed, but it didn’t last as long as Baltimore’s issues have, he said.
“What was most striking to me over recent weeks was just the continued rise in the homicide rate to the degree that this was attributable to [a] cutback in police work [in which] officers were not as vigorous in the community as they have been,” he said. Numerous reports cited officers’ fears of scrutiny after the indictments of six officers in Gray’s death.
“There’s nothing that had been done or nothing that had had an impact on the streets by the current Commissioner Batts,” he said. “The proof will be in the performance between now and next April in terms of how we assess the mayor’s decision.”
District 5 City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector said the “defining moment” for her was when she heard about the recent citizen complaint about a police station closing at 7 p.m.
“That is not acceptable,” she said. “I travel the city all by myself all the time and I’m out late. If I ever was in fear of I know where they are — I would go to a police district. … It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
She was excited by Davis’ appointment to interim commissioner, saying he was “well recommended.”
Davis most recently served as the chief of police in Anne Arundel County. He came to Baltimore in January after Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh replaced him. He had spent about two decades in the Prince George’s County Police Department, where he served as deputy chief and assistant chief of police.
At the July 8 news conference, Davis said his focus is simple.
“It’s all about the crime fighting and it’s all about the relationship with our community, and the relationship with our community needs to be one of service,” he said.
Batts previously served as the chief of police in Long Beach, Calif., and Oakland, Calif., prior to his time in Baltimore.
His firing came hours after Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 released a report critical of the actions of the mayor, Batts and police commanders during the unrest in April and May.
Kevin Harris, spokesman for the mayor’s office called the report “no more than a trumped-up political document full of baseless accusations, finger pointing and personal attacks.” He said the city’s review will be extensive and independent.