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The permanent chief?

Kevin Davis' hold on the top job in Baltimore's police department is, realistically, no stronger today now that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has said she intends to erase the "interim" from his title and make him the permanent commissioner. Given her announcement Friday that she would not seek another term, he almost certainly would have remained in the job — barring some massive screw-up — at least until the next mayor takes office after the 2016 election. Nobody else was going to take the position under those circumstances, and the mayor wasn't looking for someone else anyway.

If Mr. Davis gets the title bump — and approving comments from City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young suggest that's a good bet — he will still be the commissioner, barring some massive screw-up, at least until the next mayor takes office, with the only potential difference being how much Ms. Rawlings-Blake would have to pay to buy out his contract should things go south between now and then. It's possible, of course, that Mr. Davis could perform so well in the next 15 months that he would keep the job under the next administration, but that's probably a long shot. Given how central the police department is likely to be in this election — both in terms of its relationship with the community and its ability to stem the terrible wave of violence that has hit Baltimore since Freddie Gray's death — we would expect the next mayor to make a very high profile search for a new commissioner.

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Does Mr. Davis need the title? Some argue that an interim title makes it more difficult for Mr. Davis to undertake the kind of reforms the department needs, but he hasn't been acting that way. He has shown a willingness to implement new initiatives and shift strategies in the crime fight, and at least for the moment, he appears to have the support of the rank-and-file in a way his predecessor, former Commissioner Anthony Batts, did not toward the end of his tenure. The police body camera pilot project the city is due to roll out in the coming weeks will pose some test of Mr. Davis' ability to maintain that good will, but the bigger one will follow the Justice Department's civil rights investigation into the department's practices. What comes of that report will depend far less on his job status than the mayor's.

Does Mr. Davis deserve the title? The jury is out. There have been some hopeful signs in recent weeks, such as the federal charges announced last week against 14 men arrested with illegal guns, but the toll of violence continues. The mayor may be impressed with the "energy" that Mr. Davis has brought to the job and with the associated increase in police activity, as a Rawlings-Blake spokesman said, but it would appear to be too early to judge his efforts a success. Mr. Davis took over the department on July 8 — 68 days before Ms. Rawlings-Blake would propose giving him the title of permanent chief. During that time, the city experienced 79 homicides. That's about the same pace as during the comparable span between the start of the post-Freddie Gray violence and Mr. Batts' firing. The 34 homicides Baltimore saw in August, though better than July's 45, were still a level of violence the city hadn't previously seen since 2007. After a deadly weekend, in which three were killed and several injured, including a 9-year-old girl, the city is on pace for 26 homicides in September.

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(In fairness, former Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III was hired in 2007 under similar circumstances — he was picked as interim chief amid a violence spike in July and was nominated as permanent chief in October, after then-Mayor Sheila Dixon won the Democratic primary. Homicides were headed in the right direction, but it was certainly not clear by that point that Mr. Bealefeld would be a successful as he was.)

All that said, we are glad to see Ms. Rawlings-Blake offer Mr. Davis the permanent post, for this reason: He is probably going to be here for the rest of her term one way or another, but formally nominating him for the job means confirmation hearings in the City Council. Given all the turmoil Baltimore has been through in recent months, we could use a vigorous, public and transparent discussion about the direction of the police department, and we can't wait 15 months for it. And given that one member of the council has already announced a run for mayor and others are clearly considering it, we expect that's just what Mr. Davis' confirmation hearings will provide.

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