Mayor Catherine Pugh says she fired Police Commissioner Kevin Davis this morning because she is “impatient.” Violence is too high, she said, and the rate of shootings and murders isn’t going down fast enough. She gets no argument from us about that. Whatever his merits, Mr. Davis presided over the worst period of violence in Baltimore’s history. Killings were relentless from the moment he was hired to the moment he was dismissed. He wasn’t getting the job done, and Mayor Pugh was far more patient than we or many others in this city would have been. It’s about time she made this move.
Her announcement that Mr. Davis’ deputy, Darryl De Sousa, will replace him produced warm reactions from the powers-that-be, from City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young to the Fraternal Order of Police.
City Councilman Brandon Scott, a frequent critic of the mayor on public safety, stood with her at a morning news conference and nodded his head as she and Mr. De Sousa spoke. For a department reeling from corruption, the mysterious death of homicide detective Sean Suiter and the scathing 2016 Department of Justice report on the legacy of unconstitutional policing here, he is a safe choice.
But we need far more than a commissioner who be liked by the rank and file and the politicians. We need one who can simultaneously reduce historic homicide levels and rebuild public trust in the department. Whether someone who takes pride in having served in every single rank in the Baltimore Police Department over a 30-year career here can shake things up is a big question.
Mr. De Sousa sought to present himself this morning as the face of new energy and ideas in the department, saying that just before he stepped to the podium in City Hall a new deployment of “waves” of uniformed officers was hitting the streets, with more to come every hour throughout the day. (How many officers, where they’re deployed and where a department that’s hamstrung by historically low staffing levels and a restrictive shift schedule was able to find them, he didn’t say.) He talked about “hot spot” policing and bringing in a deputy chief from the Los Angeles Police Department whose tactics are credited with driving down violence there and who is now showing some promise in helping Chicago police do the same.
But the “wave” deployments, he said, had been in the works for weeks and are a repeat of similar initiatives the department successfully undertook in some high crime areas in the fall and summer. He used the same terms to describe the department’s strategy — going after “repeat violent offenders” and “trigger pullers” — that his predecessor (and his predecessor and his predecessor) used. The “hot spot” model and the collaboration with the LAPD were both in the works under Mr. Davis, too. In fact, Mr. Davis was in Chicago meeting with the people implementing that strategy the night before he was fired. None of this represents a change in course from what could have or would have been done under Mr. Davis, just a change in the public face of the department.
Mr. De Sousa needs to be far more than that. He has a reputation as a talented operational commander, but his resume in orchestrating a departmental culture change is thin. If he surrounds himself with the right people — and his year studying at the International Association of Chiefs of Police should give him the contacts to recruit top-notch deputies — the trust and goodwill he enjoys in the department and the community could make him the right person to institute the change Baltimore needs. If he staffs his command with the same people who have failed to bring Baltimore either effective or constitutional policing, he won’t.
Mayor Pugh could have initiated a national search to find someone with a proven track record of implementing the kinds of reforms Baltimore needs. The list of such people is not long, but they exist. Instead she chose someone who will need to rise to the occasion. We can’t afford for her to be too patient about waiting to see if he can.
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