Commissioner Davis promises more beat cops

Commissioner Davis promises more beat cops
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis stands by as Mayor Catherine Pugh outlines her priorities. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis says he is transferring 100 officers to patrol from other divisions in an effort to relieve strain caused by understaffing since the unrest of April 2015.

The word came in a press conference in Mayor Pugh's office. Pugh pledged that her administration would not cut police patrol, fire fighters, or sanitation, and said Commissioner Davis ought to be able to fill shifts as needed by officers pledged to work five days on and two off, instead of the contractually mandated four on and three off. She said she had not analyzed the current 10-hour workdays, but that the city's police overtime was higher than usual. "We incur something like $1.6 million every pay period," she said.


Line officers have complained of short staffing for years. After the riots and protests associated with the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, hundreds of city cops retired or departed for jobs in other jurisdictions. As homicides surged to record levels and clearance (or arrest) rates fell, the police department struggled to fill patrol shifts, sometimes staffing them at only half strength. "There are shifts going out with one supervisor and eight officers instead of three and 15," a patrol officer, who asked that their name not be revealed, says.

This week Fraternal Order of Police President Gene Ryan said the understaffing had reached a "tipping point," a phrase that got under Davis' skin.

"I find that offensive," he said. "We're out here doing the best we can with the number of people we have."

The police union is in negotiations for a new contract. Pugh reiterated her desire that civilians be placed on the trial boards that judge officers in disciplinary hearings. "The other important thing to me is strengthening the Civilian Review Board," she said.

The department was roiled by the unrest that followed Gray's death. Six officers were charged criminally, but none were convicted. A Department of Justice collaboration with the city police was turned into a scathing study, released in August. The city and DOJ are still negotiating a consent decree. Pugh says she is hoping the agreement will be finalized before Donald Trump is sworn-in as president on Jan. 20.

"We're still recovering from the attrition of 2015," Davis said. He pledged a targeted enforcement of specific geographic areas (which he declined to describe in detail) and said he had narrowed the department's "trigger-puller list" from 600 to 132 individuals. "There are teams of detectives… assigned to make sure they're behaving themselves," he said.

Davis touted reductions in some kinds of crime, including burglaries and rape. Murders are down from last year's record pace, and the murder clearance rate, at 39.4 percent, is also up from the abysmal 30.4 percent tallied in 2015.

Davis says the average clearance rate for homicides in cities with a population of more than 500,000 is 45 percent.

Gun arrests are up, but armed robberies are up 16 percent over 2015, Davis said, adding that the increase was driven by juveniles, and that arrests of juveniles was also up by 30 percent.

"I don't believe arrests are the answer," Pugh said. She outlined a collaborative approach among social services, the health department, schools, and the police to keep young people from becoming violent criminals. "If we don't work together we can't solve these problems," she said.

Davis reeled off the city's 2016 murder stats: 318 murders, 81 percent of which happened on the street, 86 percent of them shootings, 59 percent of the victims shot multiple times, and 93 percent of all of the victims African-Americans. Davis said 85 percent of the city's homicide victims had criminal records, with an average of 11 previous arrests.

"We're not serving those people well," Davis said. "And by 'us' I mean society."

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