After a year on the job, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts believes he has identified the problem areas, learned the underlying sources of crime in violence-plagued neighborhoods and made inroads towards gaining the trust of citizens and the rank and file.
At least he hopes so. Sitting in his downtown office recently, he talked to the AFRO about his first year on the job, his crime-fighting priorities going forward and the street violence that has left more than 175 people dead and hundreds injured since January 2013.
“There are two localized areas where we have problematic violent crime within the city,” he said, citing the eastern and western districts. “That problematic crime is going to draw the rest of the city in, unless we start putting resources into those areas to prop those areas back up and get them back on their feet.”
Batts, 53, was tapped last year to head the 3,000-member department after 30 years in law enforcement. He spent upwards of 27 years with the Long Beach police, before going to Oakland in 2009 to become chief.
In Charm City, he took over a department that had been rocked by scandal. In the year since he took over, many officers have left.
Though much of his work is conducted behind closed doors, Batts said he makes sure to get out among the residents several times a week. His goal is for the department to show citizens that the officers and officials care, but also to build relationships between citizens, law enforcement and city officials. He said among his concerns is the proliferation of abandoned homes and graffiti, both of which can feed the crime problem.
Drug users and gang members operate inside abandoned homes. Gangs, he said, use graffiti to identify their drug turf, which can lead to conflicts with others who try to do business in the area.
By working with city officials, police can be more than crime solvers to citizens, he said.
“I think it’s far beyond just arresting people,” he said. “It’s the police department being that mechanism that brings other resources into those parts of the community.”
Batts said the public’s assistance is needed to help officers identify suspects and in cities where there is a collegial relationship between officers and citizens, witnesses are more likely to come forward.
He said the city’s gang activity is on the rise. He said gangs are emigrating from the West Coast and they are “targeting” a lot of the city’s neighborhoods. Specifically, he referenced the Black Guerilla Family, which is attempting to take control of several of the city’s housing complexes.
“The Black Guerrilla Family is trying to come in and take over the drug trade,” he said.
Last year violence struck heavily in the northeastern district due to gangs, he said.
To deal with that, police changed their law enforcement strategy. For example, he redeployed officers to respond to “spikes” in violence on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Batts said wants to see the reputation of the department restored. He told the AFRO he wants to make the organization the best and is pushing for the Baltimore Police Department to be seen as “a progressive, cutting edge organization.”
“My next goal is to increase our short-term covert investigation with federal partners which means that we are going to do a lot of low key investigation very quickly,” he said.
Batts observed his one-year anniversary at a time when violence was rampant in the city. According to police, as of Oct. 7, the city’s homicides numbered 177, compared to 170 this time last year.
He said the homicide rate is 4 percent higher than last year however, “we are trending in the right direction and overall violence is down in the city.”
“We are calling our neighborhoods, our businesses, our clergies and our special interest groups,” he said. “We want them all to come to the table to help to assist us. We are taking back public places and we are not going to tolerate this order that is taking place in our communities.”