The Baltimore Police Department promoted 15 commanders Tuesday and put new faces at the helms of four patrol districts and key investigative units — moves that drew concerns from some City Council members, who called for continuity following a violent summer outburst that saw dozens shot.
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said the shake-up marks the end — for now — of a reorganization that has been continuing since he took over the department last fall. He said he sought to promote "up-and-coming talent" while tweaking or adding roles to better respond to community concerns.
"When I got here, a lot of these people, I did not know their strengths, their weaknesses, their capabilities," Batts said. "We have a lot of bright, young leaders that I want to get into positions where they have time to grow, mature, evolve and complement some of my more senior command."
But some council members expressed concern. The changes reshuffle the district commanders who are the faces for neighborhood associations and community groups when problems arise on their blocks.
They also come as police are trying to stabilize communities after more than 40 shootings in the last 10 days of June. Shootings are up 13 percent this year compared with the same period last year.
"Of all moments in our recent history, this is the worst time to take away leaders who are on the ground level," said longtime Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. She represents parts of the Northern District, from which Maj. Sabrina Tapp-Harper was transferred to a position at police headquarters.
Also moved was Lt. Col. Melissa Hyatt, the Central District commander, who will now oversee the districts surrounding the city's waterfront, a newly created position. It was her third promotion in less than two years.
Maj. Johnny Delgado of the Northwestern District, the longest-tenured district supervisor, will become the night commander. Batts referred to the position as the "commissioner of the City of Baltimore at nighttime."
Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton said Delgado was beloved in the Northwestern District for his "hands-on" approach.
"This is bad timing for a change like this," she said. "The city is going, right now, through a period of violence. [Delgado] has been keeping calm in the Northwest area, including one of the main areas of my district: the Park Heights community."
But other council members said they supported Batts' moves.
"I think the majority of the moves are great for the department and the city of Baltimore," said Councilman Brandon Scott, vice chairman of the public safety committee. "There is some great young talent, and sometimes you have to go to the bench and see if you have stronger leadership."
Councilman William Cole IV, who represents South Baltimore and downtown, said he had "no issues with [Batts] trying to build his team."
Such churn is common at the Police Department, which has a young command staff and grapples with turnover.
Since Batts took the top police job last fall, most of the changes have occurred high up in the departmental hierarchy or within divisions that deal more with officers than with the public. Batts has said he has been focused on creating a "deeper bench."
He created a new "professional standards" bureau and recruited a commander from the Los Angeles Police Department to lead it. He has replaced a departing internal affairs director, moved the longtime department spokesman, and created a third deputy commissioner position, which the department hasn't had since the 1990s. Batts also launched a community partnership division.
Some changes are the result of retirements, and other positions — such as the director of the training academy — remain unfilled.
"One of the things I told my command staff is, I'm not interested in cliques. I'm only interested in team players and building teams," he said.
Of those promoted, Batts said, "They're all team players, and not focused on politics and political games."
As of July 6, the most recent crime statistics available, homicides were up 11 percent compared with the same time last year, while non-fatal shootings were up 16 percent.
Total gun crimes were up 8 percent. Violent crimes overall were down 4 percent, driven by a 10 percent decline in aggravated assaults.
While total crime is up slightly this year in the Northwest District, advocates say Delgado worked with the community on an array of issues, including liquor licenses and street lighting.
His efforts on illegal dirt bikes led to the creation of a special email account for residents to submit tips. He partnered with a local church to renovate the Northwest District police station, a project that is nearing completion.
"He has been an excellent district commander," said Patricia Rideout-Howard, president of the Northwest District Community Council. "He's given us direct information about what the Police Department is doing in different sectors and where the drug activity and prostitution was and where it was shifting."
Batts said Delgado has done an "excellent job" in the Northwestern District and will have significant responsibilities as night commander.
"He comes with good strategies for crime, and I need someone sharp when I'm not there," Batts said.
Of the community's concerns, he said, "Every time there are moves, you have to walk through that."
Hyatt is often referred to as a "rising star." She has gone from a lieutenant in charge of a three-district initiative in Southwest Baltimore in 2011, to second-in-charge of the Southeastern District in December of that year, to commander of the Central District in December, and seven months later a lieutenant colonel overseeing multiple districts.
For years, the department has had two "area commanders," dividing the east and west sides. With the creation of a third, Hyatt will oversee the Central, Southeastern and Southern districts. Lt. Col. Dan Lioi will oversee Eastern, Northeastern and Northern; Lt. Col. Clifton McWhite will oversee Western, Northwestern, and Southwestern.
"I needed the districts around the harbor together — they have similar issues with tourism, clubs," Batts said. "The Northern has issues that cross over to Northeastern, whose issues cross over into Eastern."
The same is true for the west-side districts, he said.
Col. Garnell Green jumped from the homicide unit to the high-profile chief of patrol position, and now moves to work on "special projects" in the new accountability bureau.
With some department veterans questioning the move, Batts said Green will take on a new "inspector general" role, reviewing citizen complaints and use-of-force policies. Col. Darryl DeSousa takes Green's place as patrol chief.
Green's new job "is one of the most specific high-profile positions we can have," Batts said. I'm moving someone at the rank of colonel to that position to prove how important this is to me."
Tapp-Harper, who has held the Northern District command position for two years, will leave the district to lead the Special Investigations Section, which handles sex offenses.
The sex offense commander, Martin Bartness, takes over the high-profile Central District vacated by Hyatt.
Clarke, who said she thinks highly of Tapp-Harper, couldn't understand why she was being subjected to what the councilwoman believed was a lateral move.
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"When I worked with commissioners in the past, we had conversations before decisions were made," Clarke said. "And I had my chance to express my opinion before it became a newspaper story. This has not happened, and I am strongly offended that in the midst of the problems we're having in our city neighborhoods in the last couple of weeks one of the most effective commanders for my people has been plucked out for a lateral move for an office job."
While police have been battling a surge in shootings this summer that killed 19 since June 21, Clarke said, the Northern District hasn't experienced as much of the violence as other parts of the city.
"It takes my breath away," Clarke said. "Here we are with a crime crisis on our hands. Here's a district that's held the line. … We have had great service, great response, and in reward for that leadership, our major is transferred to a desk job, leaving us to basically fend for ourselves while some new person comes in to figure out where Remington is and where Harwood is and what's going on."
Bartness inherited an embattled Special Investigations Section that was still implementing reforms after coming under fire for underreporting sex crimes but had made strides in creating a more responsive and transparent unit.
"Martin Bartness had a real commitment to fixing the problem," said Lisae Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "Although we still have a ways to go, it was important that he was involved and important that someone with his skill and commitment to the issue worked to address the problems because they were serious."