New Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa talks about changes in policing for the Baltimore Police Department. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun video)
Press conferences are a good place to start in changing the narrative, as Mayor Catherine Pugh says she wants to do in Baltimore.
But her 20-minute event this morning to announce the firing of Kevin Davis and promotion of Darryl De Sousa to police commissioner didn't generate much feeling of change at all if you were watching on TV or video stream.
Part of the problem in generating a sense of a new beginning is that Pugh promoted from within.
In terms of perception, the Baltimore Police Department has become to crime fighting what the winless Cleveland Browns are to the NFL. You don’t convince fans that it’s a new day by promoting the offensive or defensive coordinator from that 0-and-16 team to head coach. You go outside.
I am not questioning the mayor’s choice. I do not have the expertise to do that; I am not a crime reporter. I am just talking image and perception, which are my beats.
As a media critic, I couldn't help noticing how much effort Police Commissioner Kevin Davis was putting into optics and image without much success. As a 27-year resident of Baltimore City, I also wondered if that was where our top cop's focus should be while crime tore up the city.
There were several questions from reporters during the session that reflected skepticism that someone who had thrived in this system for 30 years was suddenly the one to fix it.
One pointed question asked De Sousa what he did or didn’t know about the infamous Gun Trace Task Force in 2011 when he was commanding officer of the Northeast District, which the questioner described as the unit’s “stomping ground” for their crimes.
“So I was not aware of the GTTF in 2011 in the Northeast district,” De Sousa said. “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.”
De Sousa did not address the issue of the crimes the unit is alleged to have committed over the years.
It seems as if no one in command knew what this outlaw unit was up to. That has to concern citizens, and the press conference did nothing to address those concerns about corruption in the department. Are there other cops doing similar things today? What about videos that seemed to show police planting evidence?
And while De Sousa and Pugh promised transparency during the session, they were lacking in specifics when asked his plan for dealing with the the death of Det. Sean Suiter, who was shot the day before he was scheduled to be questioned by federal prosecutors in a corruption probe.
De Sousa said he was going to “sit and have a conversation” with the mayor, the FBI and the detectives on the case. Then, they would evaluate all the information.
“And probably in a couple of weeks, we’re going to, you know, see if there are any additional leads,” he added. “And there’s going to be complete transparency with the case.”
That is sure to sound like buying time to some listeners — at a time when many residents feel a need for specific facts about the case. And without such specificity, social media will continue to roil with conspiracy theories and doubts about BPD’s honesty.
Having viewed hundreds of turn-the-page press conferences over the years, I was also struck by how relatively brief this one was: about 20 minutes.
The mayor said she and the new commissioner had to get to work. We all have to get to work. When you name a new police commissioner in a department and city as troubled as ours, you roll up your sleeves, settle in and let media outlets ask every question they have until there are none left.
There has been a lot of talk about narratives coming out of City Hall lately. And with it, some criticism of the media. "Happy New Year! Change the Narrative ... Goodness Is On the Rise!" Mayor Catherine Pugh wrote in her first tweet of the new year. So, let's have a real talk about narratives.