New Baltimore Police commissioner De Sousa touts success of first days of 'Operation Blitz'

Baltimore’s new Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said Monday that his stepped-up deployment of officers — dubbed Operation Blitz — had yielded immediate results, and he previewed other plans to reshape the department.

De Sousa briefed members of the City Council on his first days in office over a lunch of chicken, cornbread and macaroni and cheese. Mayor Catherine E. Pugh named him to the post Friday, as she announced the firing of his predecessor, Kevin Davis.

De Sousa said an effort to deploy more officers onto the street for a 13-day operation had already resulted in 19 guns’ being seized, including an assault rifle and a shotgun, and 55 arrests.

“Very great work,” De Sousa said.

Pugh said Friday she needed someone new to tackle Baltimore’s record violence. De Sousa, a veteran of the police department’s patrol division, said his aim was “to do that at an accelerated pace.”

“I’m really, really excited about 2018,” De Sousa said. “I have just have some good vibes in my heart about it.”

But even as additional officers were out on the streets, the violence continued in Baltimore. Four people have been killed in shootings since De Sousa took over Friday morning. And in the early hours of Saturday morning, officers shot a man in the leg.

Police did not immediately respond to a question about how the arrest and gun seizure numbers De Sousa cited Monday compared to previous weekends. But court records don’t indicate a surge in overall arrests — police filed charges against 153 people from Friday through Sunday, compared with 150 in the same period the week before.

De Sousa comes into office on the heels of the deadliest per-capita year in Baltimore’s history, with 343 homicides, and a department under federal court order to overhaul an approach that the U.S. Department of Justice concluded routinely violated civil rights. His permanent appointment to the job requires a vote in the City Council, which is expected next month. The chairman of the committee that will handle the nomination appeared alongside De Sousa at the news conference announcing his appointment.

After De Sousa’s presentation over lunch, council members said they were upbeat about the mayor’s choice. Councilman Zeke Cohen, a member of the committee that will consider De Sousa’s nomination, said what he had seen of the new commissioner so far was positive.

“I am excited for Darryl De Sousa and the urgency that he’s bringing to the crime fight,” Cohen said. “He has stated in no unclear terms that reducing violence will be his top priority and that is my top priority as well.”

Mary Pat Clarke, another member of the committee, has known De Sousa for many years. She called him professional and organized.

“He seems to be very well received and I'm sure he'll do a very professional job,” she said. “He also has the benefit of coming up through the ranks.”

Councilman John Bullock, who represents part of West Baltimore, said he was encouraged by De Sousa’s focus on getting officers onto the streets but said it was too soon to draw firm conclusions.

“It’s probably a little bit early for me to say one way or another if it’s having an impact,” he said. “Hopefully this is a move in the right direction.”

De Sousa told the council members that he plans to reorganize parts of the department.

“There are going to be some changes,” he said. “I’m shaking things up almost immediately.”

De Sousa said he plans to create a Youth Division that will focus on teenagers, hoping to intervene before they reach their 20s.

“We’re actually going to focus on our young kids in the city,” he said.

Cohen said he hoped the division would both target young people who commit violence and try to reassure others that the police are there to protect them.

The commissioner said he plans to create a Constitutional Policing Unit that will provide on-the-street oversight to officers. It will focus on the statements of charges officers write when they make an arrest, on gun cases and on the use of body cameras.

“That unit is going to go out onto the streets and make sure the men and women do their jobs professionally each and every day,” De Sousa said.

De Sousa said he also will beef up an existing traffic enforcement unit called the Mobile Metro Team, doubling it from 14 officers to 28.

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