Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts (in the police uniform) looks on as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake delivered comments at a recent forum on reducing African-American homicides. Batts said police practices have exacerbated problems in communities of color in Baltimore as well as across the country. (photo by Roberto Alejandro)
The Baltimore Police Department has exacerbated problems in many Baltimore communities struggling with violence and other issues, with the policy of mass arrests proving particularly corrosive, said Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts during a March 24 public forum on reducing African-American homicides held at Empowerment Temple in West Baltimore.
Batts said that he has taken on the challenge of making over “a very traditional police department” that has “been part of the problem” in Baltimore. According to Batts, most police view themselves as doing “God’s work,” but their tactics have often made communities worse, not better, a point he illustrated with a personal anecdote.
“When I became a chief for the first time in the early 2000s, I was sitting in my office late at night…patting myself on the back on how we reduced the crime rate, and I started taking a look at how many people we arrested. And I started to look at the demographic breakdown of the 5 million people that we arrested and they were heavily African American. And we were doing mass arrests and I sat there and had a conversation with myself and said if we continue this we’re going to obliterate our communities, that when we do those mass arrests, when we put and incarcerate people who look like me into jail in mass numbers, we’re destroying communities,” said Batts.
The commissioner said a sea-change in his own thinking was necessary to turn himself and his former department around, and that this is what he was looking to do here in Baltimore.
“This organization is changing, and I will drag it from point A to point B and we’re going to make it a part of this community,” said Batts. “And we’re going to apologize for those things that we do wrong, and we’re going to hold the bad —I’m going to be the first one to put handcuffs on them and put them under the jail.”
Later during the forum, a community member asked Batts how he would address the disrespect officers allegedly show many Baltimore residents during their interactions. Batts acknowledged the man’s concern, and further validated it by mentioning this is something he has heard from Black men and women in Baltimore, as well as congresspersons and city councilpersons.
“The way that we speak to the community is horrible, and we’ve got a long way to go,” said Batts, who shared that he not only insists that his command staff discipline officers for such behavior, but that he has also introduced implicit bias training to help officers identify their own biases that color their interactions with community members.
“I wish I could cure all the ills of this organization in the two years that I’ve been here, but it’s going to take time,” said Batts. “What I will share with you is that we’re taking those steps, aggressive steps, progressive steps, to change this organization in a very quick manner, as quick as possible.”