A huge job vacancy remains unfilled at the Baltimore Police Department—as the city’s crime problem appears to be spiraling out of control. Baltimore has been searching for several months for the right person to take on the challenge of leading the police force.
Baltimore’s homicide rate is at a record level—higher than Chicago’s and Detroit’s. The city recorded 342 homicides in 2017. At the same time, the police force is struggling to fix serious problems stemming from its long history of corruption and systemic racial bias against Black residents. These issues were the subject of a scathing 2016 Justice Department report.
“You’ve heard about the war on drugs. There is a drug war. People are protecting their territories with guns,” Pugh said, explaining what led to the 11 shootings on Tuesday that resulted in three deaths.
During the press conference, the mayor didn’t offer a clue about her timeline for appointing a permanent police commissioner.
The police commissioner’s office has been a revolving-door workplace all year. In January, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis was fired and replaced by Darryl De Sousa. However, De Sousa stepped down in May after being charged with a federal tax offense. Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle, who served as one of De Sousa’s top deputies, withdrew his application on Oct. 9 to become the permanent commissioner.
Baltimore has had 10 police commissioners since 1989. There are now reportedly more than 50 applicants for the post. Undoubtedly, city officials are hoping for stability with the next pick for commissioner.
Many residents want to see major changes in how officers police the Black community.
Has anything improved since Baltimore entered into an agreement with the federal government to reform the police department?
“Hell No! And it will never improve until they dismantle the entire Baltimore City Police Department. We need leadership where we can trust them,” Diane Butler, whose nephew Tyrone West died in police custody, told NewsOne.
“We need a renewal from the top down. I mean, how do you expect change when you have the same people in leadership positions who have been there for decades worth of corruption?” she added.
West, 44, died from a heart condition during a scuffle with several cops after a July 2013 traffic stop, according to the official police version. Prosecutors declined to charge the involved officer.
However, Butler and other family members believe police brutality was the real cause of death and that city officials have tried to cover it up.
Butler, who has been an advocate for police reform, said folks in the Black community need to be able to trust the police. She urged the mayor to ensure that there’s a thorough background check of the next commissioner.
“How can you trust someone to run a city when they have a history of corruption themselves, in one form or another. Remember it’s all about trust, truth and transparency. That makes for good leadership,” Butler said, offering advice to the mayor.
The next commissioner will have a lot on his or her plate.
“I don’t think there is a more challenging police chief job in the country right now. It’s facing a number of challenges: A consent decree, significant crime and issues rebuilding trust,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told the Baltimore Sun.
Note: This article was updated to include comments from Diane Butler.