Ten federal agents will join the Baltimore police homicide unit, commanders announced Sunday, after the city followed its deadliest month in decades with a night in which 10 people were shot — seven of them in one incident.
Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the addition of the special agents from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Secret Service represent a "flipping of the script of sorts."
"That's a bit unusual because local police departments — and Baltimore is no different — historically send detectives to federal law enforcement agencies to embed with their long-term investigations," he said.
The department's homicide clearance rate is 36 percent. Davis said the agents will use federal resources to help homicide detectives solve killings.
A total of 191 people have been killed in Baltimore in 2015. Forty-five people were killed in July alone, matching the all-time monthly high from 1972, when the city had 275,000 more residents. Forty-two people were killed in May, the month after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody sparked riots.
The violence this year is in some ways unprecedented: No previous year has had two months with more than 40 killings, and the 116 killed from May to July is a three-month high in data kept since 1970.
Davis said officers have confiscated about 20 percent more guns on the street this year than at this point last year. Police believe people are arming themselves amid an "atmosphere of uncertainty" after April's unrest.
"Given where we are now in Baltimore, we need to win tomorrow," Davis said. "We need to win Tuesday, then we need to win Wednesday. So we can't be looking too far down the road because we're in a moment we need to fight our way out of. Having [federal agents] embed with our homicide detectives and literally be on the streets of Baltimore, boots on the ground, is what we need right now."
A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called the move to bring in federal agents "exactly the kind of all-hands-on-deck approach that the mayor has been calling for."
"It's clear that the relationships that Commissioner Davis brings to the position, as well as his creative approach toenhanced collaboration and cooperation withour various federal, state and local law enforcement partners, are boosting our efforts," spokesman Howard Libit said in a statement. "Asthe policecontinue to work with community members who are increasingly calling in tips, the mayor is confident that together we will bring the violence under control."
The 10 new federal agents will join 20 ATF agents already working cases on Baltimore's streets with the department's Ceasefire detectives and a full-time FBI analyst assigned to the analytical intelligence section, Davis said.
The ATF is also providing city police with ballistics examinations "to connect guns, to connect shell casings and to identify suspects," he said.
Davis plans to attend a summit of major police chiefs in Washington this week to discuss the causes and solutions for a national increase in killings. He listed homicide increases in Washington, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Milwaukee, New Orleans, St. Louis and San Antonio to make the point that the violence isn't isolated to Baltimore.
"Certainly it's pronounced here in Baltimore, but I believe the circumstances contributing to our uptick are probably not unlike the circumstances contributing to the uptick in homicides in other jurisdictions across our country," Davis said.
In another major step that he hopes will help stem the violence, Davis promoted or moved 28 personnel into new roles over the weekend, which he said would "streamline" operations by simplifying the organization chart.
"This reorganization puts every detective in the BPD under a singular chain of command so they're not siloed from each other, and they're sharing information with each other more rapidly, more consistently in real time," he said.
Investigators found that the shooting that left seven people injured in Northwest Baltimore early Sunday was retaliatory, Davis said. At least one of the victims is a Black Guerrilla Family gang member, he said, and two of the victims had been shot in previous incidents in the past two years.
Five of the victims walked into city hospitals with their injuries; another two were found at the scene of the shooting, in the 2900 block of Garrison Ave. in Central Park Heights, police said. All were shot in the leg and were expected to survive.
Sunday afternoon, a minivan with a shattered window remained on the scene, and a plumbing truck was being towed away. Its owner said he could find no bullet hole, but oil was spilling from the engine. Neighbors said they heard gunshots and peered out their windows to see a chaotic scene, with people running in different directions.
"I heard one of them say, 'I got hit!'" said one neighbor, who declined to give her name out of fear of retaliation. "It was so close. It was scary."
Three other people were shot early Sunday, one fatally, elsewhere in the city within the span of about two hours police said.
A 28-year-old man was shot to death about 2:25 a.m. Sunday in the 200 block of N. Payson St. in Penrose, police said.
A 21-year-old man was shot in the chest and torso less than an hour before in the 2200 block of W. Fayette St., police said. He was taken to a hospital in serious condition, and police are looking for a connection between the two shootings.
The night's 10th victim was shot in the leg and grazed in the head aboout 12:30 a.m. Sunday in the 2400 block of Woodbrook Ave., just blocks from the intersection of North Avenue in Penn North, which was the center of the April riots and the site of a slew of shootings since.
Davis said he hopes the steps he announced Sunday will show Baltimore residents that the Police Department is doing everything it can to stanch the bloodshed.
"That's what the community is looking for: Do you have a plan? Are you willing to adjust to the circumstances that exist on the street? Are you collaborating with prosecutors? Are you collaborating with law enforcement peers across the country?" Davis said. "Or are you sitting still?
"We're not sitting still in Baltimore. This is not something we are satisfied with happening to us as a city. We're punching back, and we're going to continue to punch back as creatively and innovatively as we can."