Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis was let go this morning by Mayor Catherine Pugh. It was the right call.
I’ll share my own experience with Mr. Davis, which I think is indicative of what has happened in the department under his leadership. Seeking to play a useful role in police-community relations, I proposed a meeting between Mr. Davis, myself and four members of Baltimore’s arts community. My intent was to create a private space for constructive dialogue between Mr. Davis and individuals with a valuable breadth of relationships in Baltimore.
Mr. Davis appeared to like this idea and assured me that he would participate. But when I followed up with him after taking office, I did not hear back. I contacted him with constituent matters, and still I did not hear back. As months passed, it finally occurred to me that Mr. Davis wasn’t simply busy or temporarily neglectful. Instead, he genuinely did not intend to follow through. In fact, after our initial meeting, I never once received a reply to an official communication from my office.
For Mr. Davis, leading the police department meant managing a narrative. I’m afraid it did not mean learning from other people's perspectives. The perspective I hear again and again from people across the city, is that Baltimore cannot police its way to prosperity. The answer to crime in Baltimore is not more of our budget tied up in the police department, when Baltimore already spends far more per capita than other cities. Our next commissioner must confront the basic truth that our city needs new social policies that change circumstances and the fiscal resources to back them up. We should not let our optimism for new leadership distract from this reality.
We can’t truly address violent crime if we can’t increase wages and employment. The more we spend on police, the less there is to spend on schools, housing and our social safety net. The answers to healing our city are in our people. Our people need jobs, education, health care and transportation. It is impossible to fund these things with a police budget so large. A successful police department is one that is shrinking.
Our new commissioner has the opportunity to chart a new course by recognizing that police spending has become a barrier to social progress in Baltimore. I stand with community leaders around Baltimore who are eager to join him in that task. He will have no shortage of partners if he chooses it.
Ryan Dorsey (Ryan.Dorsey@baltimorecity.gov) is a member of the Baltimore City Council and vice chair of the Public Safety Committee.