Press conference transcript: Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, new police chief Darryl De Sousa

Mayor Catherine Pugh: … I’ve named Deputy Commissioner De Sousa as commissioner for the Baltimore City Police Department. For those of you who don’t know, for the last year I’ve had an opportunity to interact with our police department over the last year. I’ve gotten to know many of our law enforcement officers, commanders and those who’ve been working with this police department. I want you to know that I worked side by side with Commissioner Davis, hard working, but I am impatient. We need violence reduction. We need the numbers to go down faster than they are. I can tell you with the initiative that I put in place about 10, 11 weeks ago that we are trending downward, but I believe that Commissioner De Sousa understands how important this is and how impatient I am, and will now take the helm of the Baltimore Police Department. So, Commissioner De Sousa – for those of you who don’t know, Commissioner De Sousa is a 30-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, and as I consulted with other folks in my administration who had this kind of experience, I thought that at this particular point and time to look inside our police department for those who demonstrated outstanding careers, that that was important to all the officers. So this is my choice, and welcome to your new position as commissioner of the Baltimore City Police Department.

Commissioner Darryl De Sousa: Thank you madam mayor. Appreciate it. Good morning everybody. So yes, as madam mayor said, I’ve been with the Baltimore City Police Department just 30 years now and in those 30 years, I served honorably in all ranks. I’m proud to say that I went through every single rank in the Baltimore City Police Department, and it was a tough challenge. In those 30 years, a good 90 percent were directly inside the community itself, all over Baltimore City. There’s a lot of individuals, there’s a lot of lives that were lost, there’s a lot of people with bleeding hearts, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. That’s No. 1 priority. The priority as of this moment right now – it’s really simple. It’s a really simple priority, and that’s violent [sic] reduction. Second priority is violent reduction, and third priority is violent reduction — at accelerated pace. That’s the bottom line.


Secondly, my plan is to immediately put more uniformed police officers on the streets. We have men and women in the police department who do a valuable job every single day — detectives, officers in every single of the nine districts. They serve honorably; they pour their hearts out on a regular basis. In fact, I spoke to a young officer in the Southern district just two days ago; he’s actually in his second surgery in reference to a injury he sustained wrestling a gun away from a suspect in South Baltimore. I just spoke to him. His words were real simple. He said, “Sir, I want to hurry up and get back to work.” These are the type of officers that we have in the Baltimore City Police Department.

The other thing I’d like to mention really quick in terms of my focus, almost immediately, is to build on the violent repeat offenders that plague the city, the trigger pullers who we know and I have a real strong message for the trigger pullers. It’s that we’re coming after them. It’s going to be accelerated pace. The district commanders in all nine districts know who they are, and we’re coming after them. And I want to let everybody know it’s going to be done in a constitutional manner. So I’m very proud, very honored of madam mayor in my selection. I’m very proud to be a Baltimorean, and I look forward to the fight. Like literally, ASAP. So when I say ASAP, I mean today, we have a initiative that started about 30 minutes ago, and it’s specifically designed to reduce violence. It started at 9 o’clock this morning, and it spread out throughout the entire city. The first set of officers that are coming on the streets, they came on at 9 a.m., there’s another wave that comes on at 10 a.m., there’s another wave that comes on at 11 a.m., and this wave is going to continue all the way to the midnight hour. This initiative is going to be ongoing. The citizens of Baltimore can expect to see a reduction. The citizens of Baltimore can expect to see us getting in front of crime immediately.


[Inaudible question]

De Sousa: No, uniformed officers on the streets. There’s a surplus of officers; they start at 9 a.m. It’s going to go throughout midnight. They’re all in uniform, and they’ve been placed in strategic locations. They’ve been placed in strategic corridors of the city. We took a look at the Top 4 districts in the city that led to violence last year; they’re deployed there. There’s going to be officers on foot addressing problematic businesses. And quite frankly, we know what those businesses are. So that’s where they’re going to be. It’s going to be an add-on to the mayor’s initiative that she talks about on a regular basis. In my 30 years, this is probably the best initiative that I’ve seen. We’ll be bringing all these city agencies in together. It’s an add-on to that. We’re excited. The violent reduction initiative is working very well. There’s a 50 percent decrease in homicides in the zones, so we’re really excited. The pace is going to be, again, like madam mayor said, is going to be accelerated.

Can you be more specific about that type of policing? The city has seen a very aggressive type of policing, which led to essentially the conditions that were addressed by the consent decree. So what exactly, when you talk about waves of police officers, what will they be doing?

De Sousa: So, Jayne, it’s a great question. They’re going to be doing proactive, constitutional policing. They’re going to enforce the laws of Baltimore City. They’re going to be very visible. They’re going to have positive engagement with the entire community.

But that’s not already happening?

De Sousa: It’s going to be accelerated. It’s going to be accelerated.

So it wasn’t happening under the former commissioner?

De Sousa: Yes, it was.


I think what we’re all trying to ask is “What’s going to be different?

De Sousa: So, the No. 1 thing that you’re going to see immediately, and like I said it started 30 minutes ago, the No. 1 thing that you’re going to see is more police officers on the streets, in the community, in uniform. They’re going to have specific missions each and every day that they go out [on] the streets, and when I say each and every day, I mean by shift. They’re going to have specific missions by shift, and that mission is going to be centered around violence reduction.

[Unclear audio, but effectively:] Is there going to be more overtime?

De Sousa: One of my goals is to reduce the amount of overtime in the city. It’s a lot. We all know that. We’re going to put more resources into patrol. We’re going to give district commanders more resources at their fingertips. I have plans to decentralize certain units in the police department that actually puts those units in the districts where there’s communication each and every day with the detectives and the officers in roll call. That’s the big plan.

[Inaudible question]

De Sousa: Yeah, we have the capacity right now to assess the officers that we have in the districts through administrative work. Detectives inside headquarters, detectives in other places of the city, and there’s going to be an immediate evaluation, but I can tell you right now, those detectives are on the streets, and this plan was in the works several weeks ago. So there’s a surplus of officers, as we speak right now, going on the streets for a period of time to address the violence. This was done deliberately, because if you take a look at this same time period last year in 2017, starting today and all the way through January 31st, the city unfortunately sustained 18 homicides and 40 non-fatal shootings. It’s unacceptable. And there’s people at home, in their homes and in their houses and in the community, that’s frustrated. They want answers and they want change, and it’s going to happen.


How long can this sustain, these waves? How long will it last?

De Sousa: It’s going to last for a while. I wish I can share more information on the exact dates and times, but I don’t want to do that. But it’s something that’s a plan of mine, and it’s not going to change. Anybody that knows me knows that I’ve always been an operational-type guy. Everybody that knows me knows I’m a chess player, and I don’t like to be outwitted. I think this initiative during this next 13-day period is going to be very effective. I might add that this is not the first initiative like this that we did. We did one in August of last year. We deployed in two or three specific districts, and the result of that was no homicides during a 12-day period. We did a similar initiative in the month of September and we deployed officers on the entire North Avenue corridor. We did it from Hilton to Milton Street and what we saw as a result of that was no violence in a six-day period. So I’m evaluating these initiatives and I’m seeing what works well. We’re just going to continue to build on it, and like madam mayor says, it’s going to be at a accelerated pace.

So what’s your plan with the Detective Suiter case?

De Sousa: My plan is I’m going to sit with the mayor. We’re going to have a conversation. I’m going to sit with the FBI. I’m going to sit with the detectives who are charged with the case, and we’re going to evaluate it and probably in a couple of weeks, we’re going to see if there’s any additional leads, and it’s going to be complete transparency with the case.

Madam mayor, what information was withheld from you when it comes to the Suiter investigation by the previous commissioner?

Pugh: What information?


Yes, were there pieces of information and parts of the investigation, evidence, that was withheld from you by the previous commissioner as it related to the Suiter investigation?

Pugh: What was shared with me were tapes that were turned over to the FBI. And you know, again, I don’t have all the information. I have not had a long or lengthy discussion around this investigation. I did, when I saw the tapes, ask for the FBI investigation. So what I’m asking the commissioner to do is to take a close look at all the evidence that is at hand, and let’s make a determination as to where we go from there.

What was it about the tapes that made you want to bring the FBI in and take this on?

Pugh: Well, I couldn’t see a whole lot on the tapes. They were pretty grainy.

Did the previous commissioner jump to conclusions about what happened to Detective Suiter?

Pugh: I have no idea.


How big of a role, if any, did the Suiter investigation play in this decision?

Pugh: My decision is because I’m impatient. My decision is based on the fact that we need to get these numbers down. As I said to someone earlier, this was not done under a cloud. This commissioner worked hard, but I’m looking for new and creative, innovative ways to change what we’re seeing here everyday. The [Violence Reduction Initiative] is an initiative that I came up with. You will see [Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief] Sean Malinowski come here beginning February. That was a discussion that I had with the Department of Justice some time ago, and he comes here in February. And Sean Malinowski, as I told you all earlier, was responsible for violence reduction for over five-year period in Los Angeles, and is currently working in Chicago and will be coming here. I need my police department to give me creative ideas focused on how we reduce violence. I can tell you the V.R.I. has shown some promise, but that is not the complete promise that the citizens of Baltimore are looking for. People want the numbers to drop. I’m asking this department to be creative, to be focused and to understand the impatience that I have and the impatience that is bubbling up in our neighborhoods and communities through the city of Baltimore.

Madam mayor, why did you decide to fire Commissioner Davis now?

Pugh: Let me just say, I’ve been looking at the police department and I’ve been working with the police department. Those daily meetings that take place at the command center over at the police department, I have been engaged in as well. I’m looking at the numbers. You all know that 343 [homicides] is one of the highest numbers in the country. We cannot continue to go at this pace. Now, while we have been focused in the V.R.I. on specific areas of the city, the city is still suffering. I say to folks that crime is now spilling out all over the city, and we’ve got to focus. So I’m charging this commissioner and his staff to get on top of it, to reduce the numbers and to reduce them quickly.

What ideas did Mr. De Sousa have that convinced you [inaudible] beyond this wave [approach]?

Pugh: I think it was last week, we were — again, I’ve watched this whole interaction with the V.R.I. The deputy commissioner, commissioner [Melissa] Hyatt, have been working very closely together on the V.R.I., and he talked about this particular initiative that he’s rolling out, that rolled out this morning, which showed to me initiative to move the violence issue in our city downward, and that’s very concerning and [audio unclear] discerning for me. And also, looking at the backgrounds and so forth of the various individuals in our police department, and I thought it was important to look inside of our police department for people who have capacity and capability, and this individual does have that.


When did you inform Commissioner Davis that he was no longer commissioner?

Pugh: This morning.

Mayor, Commissioner De Sousa, your replacement, is not an outsider. He’s part of the Davis team as the deputy commissioner, so he wasn’t operating as a lone wolf in the police department I don’t think over the last few months. Am I correct?

Pugh: No [agreeing with reporter].

So my question is: What makes him more responsible or responsive to your effort and to your request than the previous commissioner?

Pugh: So let me just say, the 2015-2016 year that he spent at the I.F.C.P., I think equips him with the tools to move this department forward. He’s had the training, and now he gets to put it into operation and I think his rising through the ranks is not just because of this particular commissioner but because of his diligence and attentiveness in the positions that he’s held. He has served with valor through every single position that he’s had in this department.


Is there a particular model that you would say that you find the best for Baltimore? A broken-windows type of approach or community policing? Is there a name you’d stick on it?

De Sousa: Like madam mayor said, Sean Malinowski is coming the next couple of days. He’s been here before. He has done assessment of the police department and some of its needs. I would say starting by saying that we’re going to have the Strategic Decision Support Center in the Eastern and in the Western districts. Those two districts, historically, have driven crime in the city. There’s a concept behind that as well that L.A. did and Sean Malinowski did. I know there’s different names for different things. Specifically, there’s a concept called Hotspot Policing. But this concept I did research on, and the concept is that police officers go to problematic areas, they go to hotspots within their respective districts, and they spend time. It’s called dosage. They spend time there, and when they spend time there, they’re addressing three things. They’re addressing the actual geography, the environment itself. They’re addressing any potential suspects that may live there — so serving open warrants, looking at those trigger pullers, looking at the violent repeat offenders. And the third concept behind that is looking at someone who may or may not be a victim and just distributing literature, for example, “Hey, this is a high-crime area. We’ve had incidents in the past. In order to safeguard yourself, watch how you display your personal property” and things of that nature.

So that concept as well, we actually started it several weeks ago. We did it on the North Avenue corridor, and it’s been successful. We did it in West Baltimore, and it’s been successful. The district commanders, as we speak, are doing it now at their problematic businesses. I will say that in the Southeast district and the Northern district, they had these hotspots. They had these problematic businesses all of last year. In the Northern district, for example, there were six to eight businesses that we know of, problematic businesses and corners that we know of, that was driving the violence. It accounted for 59 percent of the violence in the Northern district. The same thing holds true for the Southeast district. So we know the areas, we know what the problems are. I love this concept. It’s a proven concept in some other different cities. We are really excited to have the Strategic Decision Support Center come to Baltimore because it’s going to bring technology to us and bring technology to the officers on the streets. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with some of the cases that you see on the streets, that we can go a couple of days, we can go a couple of hours, we can go half a day without any violence. Then we have that one incident that kind of triggers several other incidents in a four-hour period. So we’re very much well aware of that, and based on the technology [that’s coming] and the intel that we get, it’s going to be able to allow officers on the streets to deploy to those types of issues that we’re seeing on a regular basis.

Pugh: OK, wait a minute, I’ll take two more questions and he needs to get to work and I’ve got another event.

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Couldn’t you have shared some of these ideas with Kevin Davis? And the second question is many are [unclear] looking at how they’ve cleaned house in their police department, and they want to know can they expect that kind of change from you?

De Sousa: So I’ll say that Commissioner Davis, yes, I have a lot of respect for him. I wish him well. He did promote me to Deputy Commissioner. But I will say that with respect to this concept I’m talking about, he knows about it. He supported me in doing this concept several weeks ago, and it worked. It’s working, and it’s going to continue to work.


You rose through the ranks and one of your positions along the way was in the Northeast district, including the commanding officer there in 2011. That was the stomping grounds, so to speak, for the crimes of the Gun Trace Task Force. My first question is: Were you aware of any of the allegations that may have been raised about the activities of that group? And secondly, which is a broader question, how do you repair the damage to the reputation of the Baltimore Police Department?

De Sousa: So I was not aware of the GTTF in 2011 in the Northeast district. That was a citywide unit, Jayne. What I can say is that in 2012, in my first year as a district commander in the Northeast district, we drove violence down to a point where it was probably the highest reduction in over a decade.

And the reputation?

De Sousa: The reputation is really simple. I’m a strong believer in the 21st-century task force report. I’m a strong believer in the six pillars. I particularly like the bookends of the pillar. The first bookend is building trust and transparency in the community. The last pillar is officer safety and wellness. I think those are critical in how we move forward.

Pugh: Thank you everybody.