Baltimore sends 230 officers from offices to the streets in effort to stem tide of drug-trade violence

A day after 11 people were shot, including three fatally, Baltimore officials condemned the city’s drug trade and announced plans to get more police officers on the streets.

About 230 Baltimore Police Department officers assigned to administrative duties will leave their offices for patrol work as the department seeks to combat a spike in violence across the city.

Interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle temporarily shut down administrative operations at police headquarters and in every district, he said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. Those officers have been reassigned to the streets, bringing the number of officers patrolling the city to about 650, he said.

Tuggle and Mayor Catherine Pugh, who spoke Wednesday morning at her weekly news conference, denounced the recent violence.

“It’s just not acceptable, and one of the common denominators that we’re seeing with this violence is drugs,” Tuggle said. “We’ve gotten to a point where we’ve become desensitized to levels of violence in this city that are just totally, totally unacceptable.”

Pugh also said there weren’t enough police on patrol.

“You’ve heard about the war on drugs. There is a drug war,” she said. “People are protecting their territories with guns.”

Pugh said she’s directed city agencies to look at what’s changed recently, following a few months at the start of the year when the city saw violent crime trend downward. Baltimore has had 250 homicides so far in 2018. Last year, the deadliest year on record on a per-capita basis, saw 342 homicides.

“We’re not accepting this,” Pugh said of the recent uptick in homicides.

Pugh said she visited the place on Pennsylvania Avenue where a 29-year-old man was killed and two people were injured Tuesday afternoon in a triple shooting.

People near the scene lamented the frequency with which gunfire breaks out.

“It’s an everyday occurrence,” Clyde Morrison, 65, said Tuesday.

Tuesday’s violence was concentrated largely in West and Northwest Baltimore.

“There are still too many small markets in that area that are harboring those who are selling drugs,” Pugh said. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: That is not the kind of activity we want operating in our communities.”

She said the city needs an infusion of officers patrolling the streets. Baltimore has been struggling to boost recruitment to fill some 500 officer vacancies.

City police will work with local, state and federal law enforcement partners, including the Maryland State Police, the Baltimore County Police Department, the Maryland Transit Administration Police and the Maryland Transportation Authority Police to tackle crime, Tuggle said.

The Baltimore City sheriff’s office has begun a new Friday foot patrol in Baltimore’s Southeast and Eastern districts. While the primary responsibility of the sheriff's office is to serve the courts, these deputies are now helping provide manpower in high-crime areas.

“It’s all hands on deck,” Pugh said.

The additional city officers will remain on patrol as long as they are needed and “until we can no longer sustain not having those administrative functions done,” Tuggle said.

He said the department hopes to transition some administrative duties to civilians. He did not specify which departments would see the majority of its staff leave their offices for patrol work.

“There are gonna be a number of things that don’t get done, but right now, patrol is the priority,” Tuggle said.

No officers whose duty status was changed because of internal affairs investigations are being moved from administrative to patrol duty, police spokesman Detective Jeremy Silbert said. Officers in several units will be unaffected by the reassignments, including internal affairs, education and training, recruitment, homicide, citywide shootings and citywide robberies, he said.

On Tuesday night, the City Council held a contentious meeting to discuss the possibility of bringing back a controversial, previously undisclosed surveillance plane that police said can be used to capture criminal activity. Some say it’s an important tool that could help curb the violence. Others are concerned about the program’s cost, effectiveness and appearance of “Big Brotherism” in a city where residents’ relationships with police are strained.

Pugh said her violence reduction plan does not include such a plane.

The recent spike in violence — 44 people have been killed in the past month — coincides with turmoil within the Police Department. The city is searching for a permanent police commissioner to head the troubled agency. The department’s chief spokesman resigned last week, citing “mudslinging” within the department.

The mayor was vague Wednesday about her timeline to appoint the city’s next law enforcement leader, whose top priority will be to drive down the number of shootings.

Tuggle has withdrawn from consideration for the job.

Pugh repeated that Tuggle’s successor — who will be the fourth person this year to hold the post — will be named by the end of the month. But she did not provide details, such as how the pool of candidates has been narrowed.

“We’re very close,” she said. “Very close.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Christina Tkacik and Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

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