By Brandon Soderberg
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh announced that she would be replacing Commissioner Kevin Davis early Friday morning.
“As I have made clear, reducing violence and restoring the confidence of our citizens in their police officers is my highest priority,” Mayor Pugh said via written statement. “The fact is, we are not achieving the pace of progress that our residents have every right to expect in the weeks since we ended what was nearly a record year for homicides in the City of Baltimore. As such, I have concluded that a change in leadership is needed at police headquarters.”
Davis’ replacement is current BPD Deputy Commissioner Darryl DeSousa, who was the top in charge of patrol and has been deputy commissioner since August of 2015, one month after Davis was appointed interim-commissioner by then-mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Unlike Davis and previous commissioner Anthony Batts, DeSousa is veteran BPD, with the force since 1988.
“I firmly believe that Commissioner-Designate DeSousa has the ideas, approach and demonstrated track record that will enable him to lead an accelerated effort to get criminals off our streets, reduce violence and restore safety—and peace of mind—throughout our neighborhoods,” Pugh’s statement this morning also read. “As one who has come up through the ranks, Commissioner-Designate DeSousa is widely respected by his fellow officers. Moreover, I have come to know him well during this past year given his leadership role in implementing the Violence Reduction Initiative and through our numerous other interactions.”
In a press conference this morning at City Hall, Pugh stressed that she chose DeSousa because she wanted to “look inside [the police department] for those who demonstrated outstanding careers.”
DeSousa began his comments at the press conference by invoking one of the now-former commissioner’s major talking points: a focus on so-called “trigger pullers” and the belief that targeting them and getting them off the streets reduces violence. He said they are “coming after them,” and added that “it will be done in a constitutional manner.” An initiative related to this began this morning with a “surplus of officers” hitting the streets. DeSousa also said that he did not have previous knowledge of the federally-indicted Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) until the indictments and then pivoted to violence reduction: “What I can say is in 2012 my first year as a district commander, we drove violence down in what was probably the highest reduction in a decade.”
“Baltimore has long been my home and I’ve spent my career on its streets and in its neighborhoods to address problems and bring about solutions that are meaningful for the people we serve,” DeSousa wrote in a statement.
It was not hard to see this coming. The Real News’ December story “Grave Concerns: Will Detective Suiter’s death bring Commissioner Davis down?” went through the many scandals and problems during Davis’ run as commissioner which along with the ongoing homicide rate (343 last year in total, 318 in 2016), included the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, the secret surveillance plane, and the death of Det. Sean Suiter, which has not yet been solved.
Additionally, rank-and-file officers had expressed disdain for Davis and a 1999 “unlawful detainment” incident often hung over his head. In October of 2015, 16 were arrested for occupying City Hall in protest of Davis being appointed commissioner. Organizer Ralikh Hayes, one of those 16 arrested praised Davis being fired but is skeptical that it will lead to serious shifts in how the troubled BPD operates.
“While I am happy he is gone, I am not fooled by the mayor’s attempt to shift blame and accountability,” Hayes said. “I don’t believe BPD will change much if at all from top level changes until we commit to a deep gutting of department there will be no substantial change.”
Davis’ contract was for five years for $200,000 a year and stipulated that if he is fired without cause, he receives 75 percent of his salary ($150,000). At this morning’s press conference, Pugh said she informed Davis this morning that he was fired.
Almost exactly a year before he was fired, Davis reflected on failure, sitting in his office in police headquarters looking out over the city with the Real News Network’s Baynard Woods.
“I’ve always been pretty quick to recognize failure in myself and whatever organization I happen to be a part of or lead at the time,” he said. “If you take a job like this as the head of an organization like this and you’re not willing to walk away from it if things go sideways then you probably shouldn’t take the position to begin with. So I’m very comfortable—there could be something happening out there right now, Baynard, unbeknownst to me, that could end my career right now. And I didn’t do it. I’m in here. And something could be happening right now that could shed a light on a shortcoming within the organization that I do or don’t know about, expose it, and the momentum behind it it would be too big to withstand. And who’s the head of the organization at that moment and that time and he’s got to go.”
That was two months before members of the Gun Trace Task Force were indicted by federal prosecutors, so there was, indeed, something happening on the streets at that moment that he did not know about and that did, ultimately, end his career in Baltimore.
Additional reporting by Lisa Snowden-McCray and Baynard Woods.