Uncertainty Surrounds Baltimore’s Troubled Police Department After Mayor’s Announcement

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis address a judge's decision Thursday to keep the trials of six police officers charged in the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis address a judge’s decision Thursday to keep the trials of six police officers charged in the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore’s embattled Police Department, confronting a spike in violent crime and added scrutiny after the death of Freddie Gray, is now facing months of uncertainty about its leadership.

With the announcement Friday that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will not run for re-election, she and her top lieutenants became lame ducks.

Police leadership was thrown into flux after the mayor fired the Commissioner Anthony W. Batts in July. Kevin Davis has been serving on an interim basis since then. Even if Rawlings-Blake picks a permanent successor, her successor could impose change again.

The next mayor is likely to pick a police commissioner who has a similar policing philosophy, said Joe Thomas, an expert in law enforcement leadership at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. The general election is in November 2016.

“That’s the one issue that’s captured not the city’s attention but the nation’s attention: law enforcement in the city of Baltimore,” Thomas said. “So I would envision a very public national search not long after the seating of the next mayor, whoever that person is.”

The mayor said she based her decision to drop her bid for re-election partly on a need to focus less on politics and more on public safety.

After the April death of Gray from severe spinal injuries sustained in police custody, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch launched a civil rights investigation into city police and whether officers engage in patterns of using excessive force. Six officers have been charged in Gray’s arrest and death; all have pleaded not guilty.

Justice officials earlier launched a review of police practices, in the wake of a Baltimore Sun investigation that found the city had paid nearly $6 million since 2011 in court judgments and settlements for lawsuits alleging police brutality and misconduct.

Police officials say they are working to repair community relations.

“The city is in a very critical time right now. We’re working very hard to reform the Police Department. I am working very hard with the Department of Justice to cooperate with the patterns and practices investigation. That is critically important,” Rawlings-Blake said Friday. “We have to get our city through six separate trials that will be held here in Baltimore.”

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Source: Baltimore Sun | Kevin Rector