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  January 21, 2018

Can a New Baltimore Police Commissioner Fix a Corrupt Department?

The firing of Chief Kevin Davis and the appointment of Darryl DeSousa to replace him raises questions about the ability of an agency under a federal consent decree to right itself
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STEPHEN JANIS: This is Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. Big changes in the police department. A new commissioner, old commissioner out. But what will it mean for Baltimore and its fight against crime?

Historic levels of violence and a police department battered by scandal appear to prompt changes at the top as Mayor Catherine Pugh, today, removed Kevin Davis as chief, replacing with Deputy Commissioner Darryl De Sousa.

CATHERINE PUGH: This morning, I announced that we relieved Commissioner Davis of his position as Commissioner for the Baltimore Police Department and I've named Deputy Commissioner De Sousa as Commissioner for the Baltimore City Police Department.

STEPHEN JANIS: The move came after the city notched yet another record year of homicides, amid a rash of violent street robberies and carjackings that only cemented the city's reputation as a community beset by crime. At a city hall press conference Friday announcing the change, Pugh expressed frustration with recent efforts to tackle the city's pension for violence.

CATHERINE PUGH: But I'm impatient. We need violence reduction. We need the numbers to go down faster than they are.

STEPHEN JANIS: De Sousa has served in a variety of capacities within the department, including the Northeast district commander and deputy police commissioner during his roughly 30 year career. He promised immediate change in the crime fighting strategy, announcing a newly implemented plan to flood hotspots with extra officers.

DARRYL DE SOUSA: The priority as of this moment, right now, it's really simple. It's just a really simple priority and that's violent reduction. Second priority is violent reduction and third priority is violent reduction at accelerated pace. That's the bottom line.

Secondly, my plan is to immediately put more uniform police officers on the streets. Today, we have a initiative that started about 30 minutes ago and it's specifically designed to reduce violence. It started at nine o'clock this morning and is spread out throughout the entire city and the first set of officers that are coming on the streets, they came on at 9:00 a.m.. There's another wave that comes on at 10:00 a.m. There's another wave that comes on at 11:00 a.m., and this wave is going to continue all the way to the midnight hour.

STEPHEN JANIS: But concerns were raised about the new approach given the department's pension for aggressive tactics in the past that have led to complements of police brutality.

SPEAKER: Can you give some details on what that is? Is that something with uniform officers or are you going back to the VCid kind of model?

DARRYL DE SOUSA: No, uniform officers on the streets. There's a surplus of officers. They start at 9:00 a.m.. It's going to go throughout midnight. They're all in uniform and they've been placed in strategic locations. They've been placed in strategic corridors of the city. We took a look at the top four districts in the city that led to violence last year. They're deployed there. There's going to be officers on foot, addressing problematic businesses and quite frankly, we know what those businesses are.

STEPHEN JANIS: Looming over the change were lingering questions about the stalled investigation into the shooting death of Detective Sean Suiter. Suiter was shot in the head in a West Baltimore alley in November 2017. Initially, police said he was a victim of lone gunman, described as a black male, wearing a jacket with a white stripe. But later it was revealed, Suiter was set to testify in front of a federal grand jury as part of a widening investigation into the Gun Trace Task Force, a rogue unit accused of robbing residents, dealing drugs and stealing overtime. Asked if the case had any effect on her decision, Pugh was noncommittal.

SPEAKER: What information was withheld from you when it comes to the Suiter investigation by the previous commissioner?

CATHERINE PUGH: What information?

SPEAKER: Yes. Were there pieces of information, parts of the investigation, evidence that was withheld from you by the previous commissioner as it relates to the Suiter investigation?

CATHERINE PUGH: What was shared with me were tapes and, that were turned over the FBI. And again, I don't have all the information. I've not had a long or lengthy discussion around this investigation. I did, when I saw the tapes, ask for the FBI investigation. And so, what I'm asking the commissioner to do is to take a close look at all the evidence that is at hand and let's make a determination as to where we go from there.

SPEAKER: What was it about the tapes that made you want to bring the FBI in that you saw?

CATHERINE PUGH: Well, I couldn't see a whole lot on the tapes. They were pretty grainy.

STEPHEN JANIS: For now, Pugh says her focus is on fighting crime, but the question remains, is the department already under a federal consent decree and accused of widespread corruption up to the task regardless of who is at the top?

This is Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.


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