Batts: More officers likely to be arrested, forced out as result of reforms

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts says in an opinion article published in The Baltimore Sun that his reform efforts will continue, which could result in more officers being arrested or forced out.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts says in an opinion article published in The Baltimore Sun that his reform efforts will continue, which could result in more officers being arrested or forced out. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

More Baltimore police officers likely face arrest as the result of reforms in a scandal-ridden department that requires "wholesale change," Commissioner Anthony W. Batts wrote in a wide-ranging opinion piece published in The Baltimore Sun.

"Our reform efforts will very likely see more police officers arrested," Batts wrote. "We will have more officers who are forced out because their outdated, outmoded views of policing do not match the standards the community expects and demands."


The piece was published Friday on The Sun's website and appears in Sunday's print editions.

Batts, appointed commissioner nearly three years ago, said he inherited a department stuck in a "cycle of scandal, corruption and malfeasance" and that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake hired him to reform the agency and rebuild community relationships.


"I will not apologize for bringing professionalism and integrity to the forefront while eliminating greed, corruption and intolerance from the rank and file," he wrote. "Policing in any environment is difficult on a good day. That does not mean we have, or should ever have, a blank check to treat the public with callous disregard."

Several observers criticized Batts for making excuses for slow progress and said he comes across as someone trying to save his job at a time when the department and its officers have been assailed for Freddie Gray's arrest and death in late April and the handling of the ensuing unrest and spike in crime. Homicides hit a 25-year high in May, a month when officers made fewer arrests than in any other month in the past three years.

"The letter reads desperate to me, like his days are numbered," said Edward C. Jackson, a retired Baltimore police colonel who teaches at Baltimore City Community College. "It's not commanding."

Batts did not address the alleged slowdown in policing but focused on portraying his management of the department as having aggressively reformed an agency that the public viewed as "out of control" when he arrived.


"Many officers will be unhappy reading these words," Batts wrote. "Many want me to outright defend the department and say nothing is wrong with the way this organization engages in police work. For the overwhelming majority that is true.

"However, when people go on television, wearing masks, allege themselves to be police officers and are cloaked in the shadows espousing their own indifference to violence as children are shot, I am troubled," he said, referring to anonymous sources who have appeared on TV news shows in recent weeks. "This is not the Baltimore Police Department that I know."

The police union has denied that there is a work slowdown.

Batts, who makes $194,000 a year, vowed to continue enacting reforms, despite any resistance, to build the-best trained department in Maryland.

He wrote that opponents to his strategy "will continue to fight against the reforms we are enacting" by questioning his leadership and attacking him with "innuendo, rumor and supposition" — a comment many viewed as a shot at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, which has repeatedly criticized Batts' handling of April's unrest. FOP President Gene Ryan, whose group represents 2,300 sworn officers, did not return calls seeking comment.

But the union did issue a short response to Batts' letter on Twitter: "What can we even say to this? Continued lack of leadership and support for our members."

Howard Libit, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, would not comment on the specifics of the letter but said the article speaks for itself.

Tensions have mounted between Batts and the union since the rioting April 27, when more than 130 officers were injured by bricks, rocks and other objects. Officers said they did not have proper protective gear to handle a riot and that a "stand down" order may have endangered officers. Batts has said none of his command staff gave such an order.

In his opinion piece, however, the commissioner did call out the Vanguard Justice Society, a group that works to identify and resolve inequities against Baltimore's minority police officers "and the communities they serve," according to its website.

"I challenge the leadership of The Vanguard, an African-American advocacy group for police officers, to stand and project their voice in this African-American city, where people who look like them feel treatment is unfair," Batts wrote.

He urged the group to "speak out against the beating" of a black resident at a bus stop by a black police officer "or the selling of narcotics on the back porch of a police station."

"Where is the concern over scores of African-Americans arrested and college scholarships lost?" he wrote. "Don't allow yourself to be used as a tool of a bygone strategy from times long since past."

Councilman Brandon Scott, Jackson and others found Batts' commentary distasteful. Many read the line as saying the FOP was somehow using Vanguard, which also has been critical of Batts.

"Black officers are going to be very upset that the Vanguard was singled out," Scott said. "That's the organization that has fought a lot for minority police officers and citizens. They're the most forthcoming on issues.

"The Vanguard and others feel that Batts is not supportive of African-American officers," he added.

Kenneth Butler, president of The Vanguard, laughed when he heard what Batts had written.

"We have always projected our voice and we still project our voice," Butler said.

Jackson, a former vice president of the Vanguard group, said he read that line as implying that Vanguard should be on the commissioner's side because he's black.

To have credibility, he said, Vanguard must be honest about problems it sees in the department.

"If the commissioner is not doing his job, being black or white, we have to hold him accountable," Jackson said.

Last month, Vanguard officials said that they welcomed the U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights review of the Police Department but that they also want the federal agency to explore what they believe are racially discriminatory practices involving discipline and promotion of minority officers.

At the time, Sgt. Lisa Robinson, Vanguard's vice president, said black officers who report misconduct involving white peers often see no action taken and can become the focus of investigations themselves. She said she hoped the Justice Department will investigate "the 'stop snitching' culture that is prevalent on the streets ofBaltimoreas well as within theBaltimorePoliceDepartment."

In an interview Friday, Batts said he called out the Vanguard group because he has been a member of African-American law enforcement organizations for years and feels he is a peer who can speak to them directly. He said the Vanguard association was built to highlight "black achievement," and he said there "comes a time" when African-American leaders need to stand up.

He said he wrote the opinion piece because he views the allegations about a "stand down" order during the riots as a "smoke screen" to stir up discussion against him because of his reforms.


He said he wrote the article "to move away the B.S. and get to what the real issues are."


City Councilman Carl Stokes said the letter was not the best way to bridge the divide between the department and its officers. "Is this the way to get us all back together, to say we're going to beat you up some more?"

Scott said he agreed with the commissioner's reforms and that more action is required. "Everyone knows that," he said.

But Scott was frustrated that Batts would bother writing such a piece, which he said perpetuates the sniping between the commissioner and union officials in the news media.

"We have real issues," Scott said. "We're wasting time with this back-and-forth bickering."

Jackson said Batts' reference to the 50 officers who were arrested in the decade before he was appointed commissioner was an obvious attempt to make excuses rather than take responsibility.

"He's trying to satisfy the mayor and the members," Jackson said. "He's like a used-car salesman trying to sell you a bad car that breaks down a few blocks away."

Batts' letter highlights steps he's taken to improve the department, including buying new police cars, upgrading technology, securing raises for officers and improving training. But Jackson said none of that can improve relationships with the community. The New York City Police Department has had superior technology for years but still suffers from accusations of brutality, Jackson said.

"He can buy all the new cars and uniforms he wants," Jackson said. "That's like putting a Band-Aid on cancer."

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin George contributed to this article

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