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Baltimore police to increase street patrols amid historic spike in violence

It's time for Baltimore Police to take a 'long, hard look in the mirror,' Commissioner Davis says

In an effort to stem Baltimore's tide of violence, police commanders plan to send as many as 250 officers who are normally assigned to desk jobs and specialized support units out to patrol some of the city's hardest-hit neighborhoods.

Beginning Thursday and lasting through the end of the year, as many as 80 of those officers per day will serve in "corridor roadway," "foot patrol" and "stationary post" assignments under a "Community Stabilization Initiative," Commissioner Kevin Davis said Wednesday.

"Certainly the violence has defined Baltimore in 2015, particularly post-unrest," Davis said. "So what we've asked our leadership team, what we've asked the Police Department, to do is step up, put on a uniform, get in a marked car, walk a beat, and let's finish 2015 in a different way, in a way that will set the tone for a much stronger 2016."

This past weekend, the city surpassed 300 homicides in a calendar year for the first time since 1999, and with killings on Monday reached a new record: the deadliest year in its history on a per-capita basis.

Nonfatal shootings are also up by nearly 75 percent year-over-year.

Davis, who took over the department after Anthony W. Batts was fired during a particularly violent July, has talked for months about putting more officers on the streets and increasing neighborhood patrols.

Killings spiked after the death in April of 25-year-old Freddie Gray and the unrest that followed, and improving relations with the community has become a top concern of the department.

Davis pitched the new patrol initiative as part of the solution, and noted that Lt. Col. Melvin Russell, the chief of the department's Community Collaboration Division, will be closely involved.

Davis said the plan would complement the efforts of partnerships the department has launched in some of the city's most violent neighborhoods.

Davis announced the initiative at police headquarters flanked by his top deputies and several mothers who have lost children to violence.

"Everyone has to come together. We have to do this together," said Jackie Easley, an emergency room nurse whose son, Shelton Turner, was killed in Baltimore in 2006. "Otherwise, next year is going to be worse."

The initiative is not the first of its kind. For years, increasing patrols has been a favorite offering of police officials facing heat and searching for answers when crime spikes.

In June, after the start of the current spike, Batts promised more officers would get out of their cars and hit the streets. Increased patrols were also promised after a spate of killings in early 2013.

In 2012, Baltimore police brought in Maryland State Police to help increase patrols. In 2007, the department ordered its homicide detectives to begin taking time away from their regular work to walk beats. That lasted only a couple of weeks before the department reversed course.

In 1991, at the start of the city's deadliest decade, police officials ordered administrative staff and plainclothes detectives into uniform and onto neighborhood beats. Back then, the shift was an effort to keep overtime costs down.

This year, the department has spent millions on overtime — including $7.75 million during the unrest after Gray's death. It also has seen greater officer attrition and is trying to fill more than 100 vacant positions.

Davis said homicide and some other detectives will be exempt from working regular beat shifts under the current program, but members of special units — including his security team — will have to work the shifts.

The administrative officers who will be shifting to patrol perform necessary functions in their regular work, he said, but the department's need for more officers on the ground has become more important.

Davis and other commanders said they would not provide details about the officers' deployments because they don't want to tip their hand to the criminals they will be targeting.

Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore, said limiting information about deployments under new police programs is common — but also makes it difficult to assess those programs' effectiveness.

"I want to know what they are doing out on the street," he said. "Stop and frisk? Stop and question? Searching? Arresting? Warning? Collecting intel?

"It's fine and all to put 80 new officers on the street, but are they going to be efficient?"

Gene Ryan, president of the union that represents rank-and-file officers, did not respond to a request for comment.

In a letter to officers about the initiative, Davis wrote that it is time for the department to take a "long, hard look in the mirror" and move forward "in a new way."

"I thank you in advance for understanding where we are during this unique moment in history," Davis wrote. "I need you on the streets for the next few weeks. I promise to proudly join you. Thank you all so very much. Let's get this done."

Davis also hinted at a return to basics for the department. He cited Gen. Colin Powell "describing effective leadership as one's capacity to be a 'great simplifier.'"

"Our 2016 crime fighting goals and objectives will reflect just that, yet the remainder of 2015 demands a swiftness and certainty of action to ensure we end this year in a manner that sets the tone for a better Baltimore next year."

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

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