Baltimore police chief fired as city’s violent crime rate surges

Mayor says police chief had become a ‘distraction’ that hindered efforts to fight crime

The Baltimore police commissioner, Anthony Batts, was ousted Wednesday by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Watts arrived in Baltimore three years ago pledging change but lost the confidence of many in his rank-and-file in the wake of riots in April.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake said he had become “a distraction” that hindered efforts to fight a recent increase in violent crime.

The mayor acted just hours after the police union issued a report critical of the department's response to the unrest set off by the death of Freddie Gray, an unarmed black man who suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody. But Rawlings-Blake insisted she was responding to a "crime surge," and not acting to placate the union, whose report said the riots were preventable.


“Recent events have placed an intense focus on our police leadership, distracting many from what needs to be our main focus: the fight against crime. So we need a change,” the mayor said at a news conference.

Batts’ firing comes at a time of increasing tensions between the police union and department leadership - and a sharp rise in crime.

In the weeks since May 1st, when six officers were charged in Gray’s death, murders have risen to a level not seen in decades.

Rawlings-Blake, an African-American leading a majority-black city, has staked her reputation on making Baltimore safer while overhauling a police department that has been accused of corrupt, often brutal, behaviour.

Batts, who also is black, similarly found himself caught between competing constituencies: black residents angry with the police, and a union that complained commanders did not support the rank and file, and had bungled the response to the April unrest.

In an “after action review” of the response to the riots released Wednesday, the city’s police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said its members reported that they “lacked basic riot equipment, training and, as events unfolded, direction from leadership.”

The report also complained that “the passive response to the civil unrest had allowed the disorder to grow into full-scale rioting,” and that officers had followed direct orders from their commanders “not to intervene or engage the rioters.”

Rawlings-Blake strongly disputed the report; her spokesman called it “baseless and false information.”

The mayor installed Kevin Davis, the deputy police commissioner, to run the department on an interim basis.