Rawlings-Blake critical of police union, doesn't respond to calls for Batts' resignation

The Fraternal Order of Police released its "after action report" on the police response to rioting in the city, including recommendations for how the situation could have been better managed by police commanders. (Baltimore Sun video)

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Wednesday lashed out at critics of Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, but didn't directly respond to calls for his resignation.

Rawlings-Blake, through her spokesman, blasted the city police union the Fraternal Order of Police, for its highly critical report of the Police Department leadership during the recent rioting.


"The FOP declined to wait and gather all of the information before rushing to conclusions which is a disservice to our officers who acted so courageously during the unrest," Rawlings-Blake spokesman Kevin Harris said in a statement.

"We will not follow the same approach. Unlike the FOP, our reviews will offer the citizens and officers more than a rehash of tired political rhetoric.


"Our review will be extensive, independent and consist of all of the facts."

The comments from the mayor's office came as a city councilman and a coalition of faith leaders called for Batts to step down amid release of the FOP report, which sharply criticized police leadership for its handling of the recent rioting. But others defended Batts. And many elected officials declined to enter the debate, saying the decision is up to the mayor or that more information is needed.

Batts has not commented, though he is expected to address reporters at a 4 p.m. news conference.

Councilman Edward Reisinger and Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development are among those saying Batts has lost the ability to lead the Police Department.


Reisinger, who represents parts of South and Southwest Baltimore, said he questions Batts' decision making. He said the recent public revelation that some of the city's police stations were closing to the public overnight was the tipping point for him.

"It's time for Batts to make the decision that he should resign and leave on his own," Reisinger told The Baltimore Sun. "But if he doesn't find the door on his own, it's time for the administration to show him."

But Munir Bahar, co-founder of the city's 300 Men March, said calling for Batts to resign won't fix the cultural and systemic problems creating violence in Baltimore.

"Personally, Batts, I respect him," Bahar said. "I respect him as a man who stepped into a mountain of a problem, and has stepped into it with courage and confidence and a willingness to tackle an issue that he did not create."

In blaming Batts, Bahar said people fail to teach others how to properly address the long-standing problems facing Baltimore.

"What we so often do is blame one person for all of the issues that are caused by manpower spread across thousands of people," Bahar said. "What we do in Baltimore so often is, we just attack the highest person, as if the highest person has a magic wand."

Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat and co-chair of the state's new working group on public safety, said it's too early to draw conclusions about whether Batts should stay.

"We all know what happened during the riots, but we have no way to speculate had it be handled in a more aggressive manner whether more police officers have been hurt, or even killed.

"At this point, I am not calling for his resignation. I don't think there is enough basis."

Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young wouldn't comment on his personal thoughts about Batts' performance, but said forcing Batts to resign is in Rawlings-Blake's hands.

"That's not our call," Young said. "That's the mayor's call. If the mayor wants to ask him to resign, that's up to her."

In the meantime, Young said he will be in communication with the council about what action, if any, the members want to take. The council does not have the authority to fire Batts, but can express their dissatisfaction. They don't meet again until July 20.

"If the council decides to take action, I'll entertain that," Young.

Some council members expressed support for Batts. Councilman Warren Branch, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said he does not believe Batts should resign.

"I've had a good relationship with him," Branch said. "I don't see any reason for him to step down at this point."

Batts, who earns more than $200,000 a year, has led the city's police force since October 2012 when he was tapped to fill the unexpired term of the previous commissioner. Batts had last served as police chief in Long Beach, Calif., and Oakland, Calif.

He was confirmed by the council in September to serve a full six-year term. As recently as June 24, Rawlings-Blake said Batts still has her full support.

Batts has come under fire as the number of Baltimore's homicides has spiked this summer. And even before the FOP report, some questioned leadership during the riots in late April after Freddie Gray's death. The 25-year-old sustained severe injuries while in police custody.

This week, news that a man trying to report a robbery was turned away by a city police station caused a public outcry. The Police Department responded by ordering all city stations to stay open around the clock.

BUILD is expected to formally call for Batts to step down Thursday at a news conference.

"At a time of an unprecedented level of violence in Baltimore, Commissioner Batts clearly does not have a visible plan to stop the violence," the group said in a statement. "BUILD has met with Commissioner Batts twice since the unrest in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray. Both times, he committed to publicly announce his plan to address the crisis of violence plaguing Baltimore. He has failed.

"If he has a plan, it clearly is not working."

BUILD is the second group of faith leaders to call for Batts' resignation. The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance called for a seven-point plan for change in the Police Department — including Batts' resignation — in the days after Gray's death.

The alliance is a consortium of pastors representing about 50 Baltimore-area churches. BUILD represents 40 congregations made up of 20,000 people. It bills itself as the most diverse interfaith, multi-racial constituency in the city.

The Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, BUILD co-chair, said the group is concerned that some officers have said publicly "they will not follow him. And they do not have the necessary guidance or training.

"His officers have lost confidence in him," Foster Connors said in a statement. "The faith community, business leaders and residents have lost confidence in him. He is a leader without a following. And the community is suffering. He should recognize this and do the right thing and step down."


Councilman Brandon Scott fell short of calling for Batts' resignation, but said the commissioner's rocky relationship with the community and rank-and-file officers is troublesome.


"It's very clear that the coach has lost the locker room," Scott said. "Once the coach has lost the locker room, it's up to the manager to the make the decision that either the coach goes or the locker room goes.

"While we're sitting around pointing fingers, people are dying."

Scott said he wasn't an early supporter of Batts, and he continues to be bothered by the strain between him, officers and the community. He noted that officers on the force now where the same ones who were able to bring the city to the lowest number of homicides in modern history.

"We're at the point when the decision has to be made," Scott said." Ultimately, it is the mayor's decision only."

Branch said Batts has appeared before his committee many times to publicly describe at length his plans for the Police Department and its policies and procedures when it comes to body cameras, vehicle stops, arrests and other matters.

"We've held many hearings," Branch said. "He's been the only police commissioner to attend every last one of them."

Branch said he has confidence in Batts' policing strategy, even as the city's faced a dramatic increase in homicides.

"Unless we deem him to be clairvoyant, he doesn't know when the next homicide will be," Branch said.

Councilman Robert Curran said Batts has his "support, 100 percent"

"It's a very tough town to be a policeman in," Curran said.

Councilwoman Helen Holton, who serves parts of West Baltimore, said whether Batts should resign is not up to her.

"A department is not one person," Holton said. "Since the unrest occurred, I know there's been some adjusting to be done. I don't have clear answers."

Holton said only the mayor can know whether Batts has made the progress she's demanded of him.

"The best person to answer that question is the one who determines accountability," Holton said. "Public opinion is important but public opinion doesn't set the agenda for the expectations. That comes from the top."

Holton said Batts has demonstrated "pluses and minuses" in the part of the city she represents. She's concerned with changes made to the command staff in her district, because it's hurt the ability of community members to build trust with the police department.

"Building relationships with people is important," she said. "It's a revolving door of here today and gone tomorrow. That doesn't bode well for anyone."


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