Can Fifth Baltimore Chief in 14 Years Make a Difference?

It’s a common occurrence in Baltimore: crime rises, the police commissioner is fired. One critic says, “I think it’s native to think that simply changing police commissioners will solve all the problems.”

Every few years, usually when violent crime is rising, Baltimore’s mayor fires the police commissioner. Martin O’Malley did it in 2004, ousting Kevin Clark.  Sheila Dixon fired Leonard Hamm amid a crime wave in 2007. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake axed Anthony Batts after a riot in 2015. Now, Catherine Pugh has has made the familiar move, firing Kevin Davis after a third consecutive year of more than 300 homicides. That raises a familiar question, says the Baltimore Sun: Will this time make a difference? Baltimore suffered 343 homicides in 2017, the second most in a single year, and the most per capita in city history. More than 1,000 people were shot last year.

At the same time, the police department has reeled from scandal to scandal. Officers have been accused of planting evidence and lying in court. Two members of the elite Gun Trace Task Force go on trial Monday on federal racketeering charges; six others have pleaded guilty. “I think it’s naive to think that simply changing police commissioners will solve all the problems in the [department] and crime in Baltimore City,” said Bishop Douglas Miles, a leader with influential church group BUILD. “We’ve been down this road before.” Pugh turned the police department over to Darryl De Sousa, a 30-year department veteran. Miles said De Sousa needs to focus on rebuilding relations with the community and tackling corruption inside the department. As for Davis, he told the Sun before he was fired that, “This is a dysfunctional police department. I’m telling you as a person who has seen what a healthy organization looks like. This is not one of them.”