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Former commissioner Batts said, officers 'took a knee.' "I think police officers generally whether it's in Baltimore or elsewhere take offense to that simplistic statement," said interim commissioner Kevin Davis about Batts comments. (Kevin Richardson)

Interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Thursday that city police officers are disappointed by his predecessor's remark that they "took a knee" after the riots of April, as violence in the city began to spike.

"I'm proud of them," Davis said Thursday, the day after former Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said officers had let up on the job after the riots. "They're working hard."

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Davis pointed to a 44 percent increase in gun seizures since mid-July, as well as the department's response to protests this week outside the first hearing for the six police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray.

Batts, who was fired in July, sought Thursday to clarify his comments.

"My comments were not focused on Baltimore police under Davis," he wrote in response to a query from The Baltimore Sun. "I referenced them taking a knee during the tail end of my tenure. I can't speak for Davis' term. I haven't been connected to the department nor have been keeping up with the department under his tenure."

Batts made the initial remark Wednesday night during a panel discussion at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg. He said the rank-and-file officers felt he wasn't supporting them.

"They want — anything they do — for the chiefs to stand up and say, 'My guys are right,'" Batts said.

He pointed to District of Columbia police Chief Cathy Lanier, who tried to implement changes in that department and received a vote of no confidence this week from her officers.

"Is this going to be the tactic, where police don't feel supported, so they allow the crime rate to go up, and the reformers lose their job?" Batts asked.

Davis said he thought "police officers generally, whether it's in Baltimore or elsewhere, take offense to that type of simplistic statement."

Gene Ryan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, objected to Batts' comments.

"Officers did not 'take a knee,'" he said in a statement. "He is right that our members felt unsupported by leadership, though.

"We are headed in the right direction under Commissioner Davis and wish former Commissioner Batts well."

Gray, 25, died in April after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. His death led to days of protests against police brutality. On the day he was buried, the city erupted in riots, arson and looting.

State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby charged six officers involved in Gray's arrest and transport.

Union leaders said those charges made officers hesitant to do their jobs. Police made an average of 2,630 arrests per month between January and April, but arrests plummeted to 1,557 in May.

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The numbers have climbed since — to 2,095 in June, 2,498 in July and 2,325 in August, city data show. But they haven't returned to the average before April's unrest — and homicide and robbery clearance rates remain far below the average of recent years.

Batts said in May that he planned to retrain officers.

"There's a lot of levels of confusion," Batts said at the time.

Davis said Thursday that "the entire city post-unrest was traumatized."

"Police officers are part of this city, so police officers had to deal with their own trauma, their own anxieties," he said. "I'm convinced we are out of that moment of anxiety."

He pointed to the recent increase in gun seizures.

"Police officers are going out there and engaging folks and conducting police activities," he said.

Davis also applauded the department's response to protesters Wednesday. The officers charged in the Gray case did not appear in court, but several dozen demonstrators protested outside the courthouse. One was arrested.

"We had anxiety about" Wednesday, Davis said. "We all didn't know how [Wednesday] was going to really transpire, and I think what we saw ... was the Baltimore Police Department learning from experiences in April and May, and a sophisticated effort to dramatically enhance our training and equip our police officers to respond to a civil disturbance scenario."

Davis said the department faces challenges in community relations but disputed Batts' comments that some residents have a "visceral hatred for the uniform."

"There is overwhelming support for the police," he said, "even in ... communities that are ravaged by poverty, education challenges, housing challenges."

Even in those communities, Davis said, most residents have positive feelings toward police, will engage with officers, and even take pictures with them.

Davis said there are "pockets" that continue to distrust police.

"We can't forget the community collaboration piece," he said. "I really want to build that community policing strategy around something that police officers can wrap their arms around, something that's tangible."

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

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