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Baltimore commissioner asks police officers for input on reorganization

Baltimore's interim police commissioner, Kevin Davis, is looking to reorganize the department and is seeking input from its 2,800 officers on how to do it.

Davis provided officers with his new email address, where they can send him their ideas directly.

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"Right now, senior leadership is evaluating the organizational structure of the department. I want to hear your thoughts," Davis wrote in an email last week. "Where do you think units belong? How many bureaus should we have? How would you like to see the Detective or Patrol units aligned? Do you want to go back to posts?"

Davis, former chief of the Anne Arundel County police, joined the city department in January as a deputy commissioner. He ascended to the top spot this month after Rawlings-Blake dismissed Commissioner Anthony W. Batts amid a continued increase in violent crime.

Twenty-seven people have been killed in July, among a total of 171 so far this year. There have been twice as many nonfatal shootings compared to this time last year. Robberies are up 18 percent, according to the most recently available data.

The Police Department did not make Davis available for an interview Friday. Though he holds an "interim" title, he "has full authority and support from the mayor to do whatever is necessary to help stop the violence," said Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

"Communities can't afford to wait," Harris said in an email. "The commissioner has hit the ground running as we work to address the crime surge. Dozens of guns have been taken off of city streets with arrests. The mayor's expectation is that we continue to aggressively press forward."

Harris said there are no plans in the works to search for a permanent commissioner.

"The mayor is focused on the crime fight and providing the interim commissioner with the support he needs," Harris said.

In his email to officers, Davis said that he is "honored to lead the great men and women of this organization" and that he will be trying to meet all of them.

He said that already, based on discussions, new flashlights are being issued to officers, and he is tackling "long overdue improvements" at district station houses.

Fraternal Order of Police president Gene Ryan said asking officers their opinions was a "morale booster."

In an interview this month, Davis told The Baltimore Sun he wanted to reverse some changes made by Batts, including shifting more emphasis back to plainclothes units.

Batts had reduced those units and put more effort into uniformed patrol. However, a change from three shifts to four has had the effect of thinning patrol ranks in some cases, and Davis said he plans to discuss restructuring the shifts with the union.

Those changes went into effect earlier in the year, and required negotiations with the union. Reversing them would require the union's signoff.

Davis' reference in the email to whether officers want to see "posts" restored refers to a decision under Batts to untether officers from specific areas and allow commanders greater flexibility to deploy officers where needed.

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Ryan, the union president, endorsed the changes at the time and said Friday he isn't so sure they should be abandoned.

He said the agency has not been able to properly staff the shifts due to various shortages. "I think we should give it a chance," Ryan said. "I'm certainly open for discussion."

Lester Davis, spokesman for City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, said Davis has not sat down with Young but steps are being taken to arrange it. He said Davis should be able to do what's necessary to control crime.

"Crime has already turned the city upside down. This is not business as usual, and not a position that lends itself to most normal circumstances," the spokesman said. But he stopped short of saying Davis should be given the position permanently.

"We want to give him all the tools to be able to get crime under control, but this needs to be a methodical process," he said.

City Councilman Brandon Scott, who serves on the public safety committee, said he's not worried about Davis' title.

"To me, what is important is getting the right folks in position to get things working the way they need to be," he said. "Politics and appointments take the next bus when what is going on is going on."

In a commentary article in The Baltimore Sun published Sunday, former Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and former State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein offered tips to Davis about how to run the department, and took jabs at the way the department was run under Batts.

"Target the most violent offenders," they wrote. "In the last few years, this has become just a catch-phrase, while the nuts and bolts to effectively target and prosecute those individuals who are committing most of the violent crime in the city have been abandoned."

The pair urge him to get officers out of their cars, rather than Batts' move to create patrol car "work stations," and to partner with other law enforcement agencies as well as other city agencies.

"You will need to get alleys cleaned, vacant buildings boarded and public pools made accessible as places of refuge for the children on the hot summer days ahead, among other initiatives," they wrote.

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

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