Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is seeking to remove the 'interim' title from police commissioner Kevin Davis. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Monday that she wants to offer interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis a multiyear contract to lead the department, a move that could put taxpayers on the hook for thousands of dollars in severance if the city's next mayor chooses to replace him.
Rawlings-Blake said Davis — named to the interim post in July — has quickly proved he has a good rapport with rank-and-file officers and law enforcement officials around the state. Those relationships will be key as the city prepares for the trials of the six officers involved in Freddie Gray's arrest and death.
Rawlings-Blake announced last week that she will leave office when her term ends in 15 months. She said on Monday that the next mayor could remove Davis "for any reason or no reason" but that offering Davis a contract that extends beyond her term "ensures that he's able to focus on moving the city forward."
And, she added, the proposed arrangement "doesn't mean that I couldn't make changes in the next 15 months if I saw fit."
Davis was named interim commissioner when Rawlings-Blake fired Anthony W. Batts. The city paid Batts $190,000 in severance under his contract, which had five years left on it, plus a payout for unused leave.
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said Davis is the reasonable choice, given that Rawlings-Blake's decision not to seek re-election makes it unlikely that the city could attract another candidate during her term. But any new contract should last only as long as the mayor's term, he said, citing concerns about additional costs to taxpayers.
The city's next mayor could give Davis "the opportunity to prove himself" if crime goes down under his leadership, but the "jury is still out," Young said. "The murders are continuing in our city. He has made a commitment to community policing. I would like to see that happen immediately."
Kevin Harris, a Rawlings-Blake spokesman, said the terms of the contract are expected to be modeled after the contracts of previous police commissioners. The details of Davis' proposed contract are being finalized, and must be approved by the City Council, which meets again on Sept. 21.
The mayor selected Batts in October 2012 to fill the unexpired, six-year term of the previous commissioner, Frederick H. Bealefeld III. In 2007, Bealefeld had been sworn in to serve the remainder of a contract under which two of his predecessors worked.
Councilman Nick Mosby, who is a member of the council's Executive Appointments Committee, said he wants to scrutinize the contract before he decides whether to support it. Mosby said that Davis has done a "quality job so far" but that it's too early for an overall assessment of his leadership.
"What sort of professional benefits will he get?" said Mosby, who is considering a run for mayor. "I would have to see the contract, but what will that ultimately mean for the taxpayers of Baltimore if a new administration wants to move in a different direction?"
Councilwoman Helen Holton, chair of council's Budget Committee, also questioned the city signing a contract with Davis.
"What is the sense of urgency at this juncture, when everyone knows that we're going to have a new mayor in 15 months?" she said. "Why put us in the position of having to pay off another contract?"
Davis, 46, makes $172,850 as interim commissioner. Batts earned $201,700 a year.
Davis was unavailable for interviews Monday, but previously said he wants the permanent job and wouldn't have accepted the interim position "if I thought for one second that I couldn't do it."
The department released a statement on Davis' behalf in which he thanked Rawlings-Blake "for this opportunity to serve the community and the men and women of the Baltimore Police Department."
"We will meet the challenges of our times with determination, transparency, and clarity of leadership," he said. "I look forward to working with City leaders to create a forward-looking public safety climate; one that recognizes our responsibility to protect our community from criminals and our imperative obligation to the community to build stronger collaborations based on a service driven atmosphere that demands respectful relationships and interactions with all Baltimoreans."
Gray, 25, suffered a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody in April. His death sparked protests against police brutality, and his funeral was followed by a period of rioting, looting and arson that prompted Gov. Larry Hogan to call in the National Guard and Rawlings-Blake to institute a nightly curfew.
Six officers have been charged in his arrest and death; all have pleaded not guilty.
The unrest and a spike in violent crime that followed precipitated Rawlings-Blake's decision to remove Batts.
Gene Ryan, president of the local FOP, did not respond to a request for comment on Monday but has expressed his support for Davis in the past. Last week on WBAL radio, Ryan said Davis has been doing "an excellent job."
Rawlings-Blake said she has been impressed by Davis' attention to the Justice Department's investigation of the Baltimore department's practices, and his work with federal law enforcement partners in the city's "war room," which was designed to target the violent, repeat offenders police say are driving this summer's violent crime spike.
She also said she's been impressed with the preparations he made to ensure that the department and its officers are "better prepared if Baltimore were to experience unrest in the future."
Davis, a fourth-generation public safety officer and former chief of the Anne Arundel County Police Department, was hired as a Baltimore deputy commissioner in January.
Davis spent part of Monday at a joint conference held by the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and the Maryland Sheriffs' Association in Ocean City, where news of Rawlings-Blake's decision was met with applause, Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said. The prosecutor's office partners with the Baltimore Police Department to bring federal charges against criminals.
Davis has a "superb reputation statewide," Rosenstein said.
"A lot of these agencies had officers standing by to help in case of trouble in Baltimore, and it's going to be very important for Kevin to maintain those relationships," Rosenstein said.
Rosenstein said Davis has the kind of "calm, measured demeanor" needed to lead during a time of uncertainty and high crime rates.
State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, another key partner in the crime fight, said Davis "brings an extensive amount of experience" to Baltimore and has her support. "I believe together we will continue to move our city forward."
Since July, Davis has been given wider latitude than past interim commissioners, with Rawlings-Blake allowing him to make key operational and personnel changes. Arrests have rebounded since his takeover, and more guns are being taken off city streets, the department has said.
However, violence has remained high. July ended with a record 45 homicides, there were 34 homicides in August and 12 homicides this month.
Leonard Hamm, who served as commissioner from 2004 to 2007 and is now director of public safety for Coppin State University Police, called Davis a "cop in every sense of the word," who understands policing, not just from an administrative or political perspective. He said he expects Davis will "articulate what his strategy is" for the city soon, and that strategy will be shaped by his past as a police officer and his desire to rebuild trust with the community and rank-and-file officers.
"Kevin thinks like a police officer. He understands that police officers can read you better than anybody else. He knows he can't fool these cops, and he isn't going to try to fool these cops," Hamm said. "He's going to make reasonable decisions that the average cop can say, 'That makes sense.'"
Joe Thomas, an expert in law enforcement leadership at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, said Rawlings-Blake's decision is "a great short-term idea" as she looks for stability within her administration. But it's "obviously not the long-term solution," given that her successor will likely launch a national search for a new commissioner.
"With new leadership in the mayor's office coming up in the not-too-distant future, you have to think that's something that's going to be seriously scrutinized," Thomas said. "I'd be the last person to criticize Commissioner Davis, but it's such a nationally visible issue right now, I think it would be in everyone's best interest to take a national look at potential solutions."