Davis says special deployments helped stall violence - and showed need for more officers on Baltimore's streets

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the special week-long deployment of more police officers showed that "when we have police officers in uniform on the streets of Baltimore, it does have an impact on the violence."

The deployments — ordered in response to six killings in less than 24 hours early last week — required all patrol officers to work 12-hour shifts, instead of their standard 10-hour shifts, and sent officers who don't regularly work patrol out onto the street.

Shortly after Davis announced the initiative, four people were shot in a quadruple shooting. But after that, the pace of shootings stalled.

Since Wednesday morning, police have reported eight people shot in Baltimore. One was fatal: the Sunday night shooting in the 3700 block of Edmondson Ave. of 18-year-old Sean Williams, a dirt bike rider known to many in the city.

Violence in Baltimore often occurs in spurts, which limits the value of week-to-week comparisons. Still, the number of shootings and killings in the past week was well below the average so far this year, which is on pace to be the deadliest in the city's history.

Davis said the deployment was not sustainable over the long term, but it served its purpose of immediately bringing down shootings.

"The only number I'm going to be satisfied with is zero," he said. "But in terms of slowing the pace of violence, it seemed to accomplish that."

Davis said he did not know how much the initiative cost. Police did not say how many more officers were on the streets under the deployment.

Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the local police union, agreed more officers are needed.

He said city officers have been getting drafted to work overtime so often lately — working as much as 16 hours straight — that some were happy about the 12-hour shift requirement under last week's initiative because it meant less work.

"The mandatory overtime is wearing people out, and that in and of itself is a safety issue," Ryan said. "We are so understaffed they are running from call to call to call. They don't have time to get to know people on their posts."

Ryan said the cancellation of officer leave on Saturday was a "morale buster." He said some officers had their leave reinstated, but had already canceled weekend plans for Father's Day and "couldn't get them back."

City Councilman Brandon Scott, chair of the council's public safety committee, said he was pleased police "were able to do something to immediately try to address the rate of violence" last week. But he said he would like to see more leadership out of the mayor's office to develop a long-term solution to deal with gun violence.

He said Mayor Catherine Pugh should appoint a new head of her criminal justice office to help shape that strategy.

"The sooner the better, because we really have to get to developing a complete strategy coming out of that office," he said. Leaning on the department's existing officers to work around the clock, he said, is not a long-term plan.

"The officers are already overworked and tired, and we have to think about everybody's safety," he said.

Scott introduced a resolution Monday calling on the Police Department to set up a "Crime Gun Intelligence Center" to share information with other city agencies. The council observed a minute of silence for all the recent homicide victims.

Pugh has said she intends to fill her criminal justice office soon. On Monday, she said she has been meeting with other law enforcement and elected officials, both locally and at the federal level, to brainstorm innovative approaches to — and attract new funding for — the crime fight.

There were 152 homicides and 393 shootings in Baltimore through June 10, meaning the average this year has been about one homicide and nearly three nonfatal shootings per day.

Homicides as of June 10 were up 26 percent over last year. Nonfatal shootings were down by about 4 percent, but total shootings were up 3 percent.

Overall violent crime, including robberies and carjackings, was up 7 percent through Saturday.

While the special deployments announced last week have concluded, Davis said there remain other "summertime initiatives that will take sworn officers out of of their normal jobs and put them back on the streets."

Davis said officers were warmly welcomed all week by community residents concerned with violence. He cited a Facebook post by Det. Kimberly Starr, usually an Internal Affairs detective, as one example.

Starr wrote that she worked two 12-hour days of foot patrol and "lost count" of how many citizens thanked her partner and her. Churchgoers formed a prayer circle around them, she said.

Starr wrote that she "wasn't happy walking foot all those hours but it was a good reminder of why we do what we do. It is a reminder that people do support the police and that we are appreciated."

Davis said success this past week in slowing the violence "underscores the fact that we're 500 officers below where we were in 2012" and that more officers on the street would do Baltimore good.

"It was a good week in terms of everybody realizing the importance of us assuring the community that in tough times, their police department is not going to treat violence as business as usual," he said. "You have to be able to see, touch and feel the police in order to feel safe in your community."

Davis said the department is working to fill 115 authorized positions. There are currently two active police academy classes, he said.

Once those open positions are filled, Davis said, he will turn his attention to whether the department's authorized force is the right size. He said the independent staffing study mandated by the city's consent decree with the Department of Justice would help determine that as well.

City officials have criticized the Police Department's annual expenditure of tens of millions of dollars in overtime. That spending has been controversial for years, but gained increased attention after the federal indictment earlier this year of seven police officers who were accused of making false overtime claims.

They were also accused of robbing citizens. They've denied all the charges.

Some officials have seized on the overtime spending in questioning the size of the Police Department more generally. They argue that some of the Police Department's half-a-billion-dollar annual budget would be better spent on providing resources, including in public education, to impoverished communities. A recent budget shortfall in Baltimore Public Schools intensified that debate.

Davis said the Police Department does not have "a blank check" to spend whatever it wants on overtime, but that overtime budgets for public safety agencies are "artificial to a certain degree" and difficult to predict.

"There's an overtime budget that's established, but in no way can it predict the challenges — crime challenges, homeland security challenges, challenges associated with special events" — that large police departments face, Davis said. "None of those things can be predicted when the ink is dry on a fiscal budget."

Davis said hiring more officers, the staffing study and an ongoing audit of the department's overtime practices will help address the overspending. In the meantime, he said, "the community wants to know what we're doing to respond to crime to change the outcomes."

"If I have to choose lives saved versus spending overtime money, I'm going to choose saving lives."

Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

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