The first thing Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said on the record when she sat down for a one on one interview with the AFRO this week was, “You know that crime is trending downward.” The statement seemed antithetical last week when Baltimore was named, “The Nation’s Most Dangerous City,” by USA Today. But, that was Pugh’s response to the dubious distinction, during a press conference with her now newly sworn in Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa, at her side.
“I came up with this initiative, the VRI, the Violence Reduction Initiative, back in October, which put commanders in every district at the table with my agency heads, agency heads that impact crime,” Pugh explained. “We kicked it off in November and at the same time Darryl De Sousa offered up another initiative to focus strategically on particular areas of the city. In November, we experienced a reduction in violence, in December we experienced a reduction in violence, in January we experienced a reduction in violence, now in February we’ll close out the month with another reduction in violence,” Pugh added.
According to statistics provided by the Mayor’s Office and the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), total violent crime is down 29 percent, compared to Jan. 1 to Feb. 17 of 2017, shootings are down 51 percent and homicides have declined 33 percent over the same time period in 2017. As of Feb. 28, there have been 41 homicides recorded in the city.
Implementing the VRI strategies being touted by Pugh, which seem to have produced positive results for the last four months, is ultimately the responsibility of De Sousa, the 30 year veteran of BPD, who has risen through the ranks and was sworn in officially as commissioner Feb. 28.
“I can tell you the strategic thoughtfulness and interaction Commissioner De Sousa has with the command staff and the officers led me to chose him,” Pugh said. I got to see…his willingness to focus on changing the way that we do things in the police department.”
Dr. Tyrone Powers, director of the Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Institute of Anne Arundel Community College, an internationally recognized expert on law enforcement, said Pugh’s selection of De Sousa was “a good choice.”
“He is knowledgeable and he knows the history of this city and of policing in this city,” Powers said. The former FBI agent and Maryland State Police officer says taking over the helm of a department deeply stained by scandal will take time.
“It will take strong, wise leadership to turn BPD around. He will need to remove and replace,” Powers said. “Sometimes this is difficult for long-term individuals in the department. But, the key is to seek competence at every level and especially at the level of first line supervisors. They must be held responsible for the actions of those that work for them….He (De Sousa) is the right man, but, the right man must now make the right moves.”
Earlier in Feb., De Sousa announced a total reorganization of the BPD command staff. He has also created a new corruption unit to investigate other officers implicated during the trial of the Gun Trace Task Force and De Sousa says he plans random integrity tests, random polygraphs, as well as the creation of a unit to prevent overtime abuse.
“We are using the appropriate channels to change this police department in a way that will regain the respect of the community,” Pugh said. “We disbanded the Gun Trace Task Force, it’s gone. We are working closely with the FBI to make sure we root out bad policing in our department.”
Pugh has also invested in a policing strategy for Baltimore she says has had great success in Los Angeles, a city once infamous for homicides, violence and police corruption. “They (Los Angeles) have sustained a reduction in violence five straight years…so they became the model for policing, they were probably the most technologically savvy department in the country,” Pugh said.
A name that seems to have figured prominently in the implementation of the L.A. policing model is Sean Malinowski, a former deputy chief for the Office of Operations of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). At one time, Malinowski was project manager for LAPD’s Predictive Policing program, and principal investigator for the Bureau of Justice Assistance, “Smart Policing Initiative.” Malinowski is currently consulting with the BPD.
“It’s a strategic analysis that is important to the crime fight, to be able to target areas where violence…is at its greatest,” said Pugh of the L.A. policing model being implemented in Baltimore.
“We have, I think a new team of folks in there that are going to bring about the change the city needs to see,” Pugh added.
“We’re strategic, methodical and focused. I think you won’t see the same numbers that you saw last year and you certainly won’t see us on that (USA Today) list.”
Next week Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh talks about grass roots organizations that have successfully reduced violence.