BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore’s mayor fired the troubled city’s police commissioner Wednesday, saying that a recent spike in homicides in the weeks after an unarmed black man died of injuries in police custody required a change in leadership.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake thanked Police Commissioner Anthony Batts for his service — and praised the job he had done — but said growing criticism of his performance had become a “distraction” that was preventing the city from moving ahead.
Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, who has only been with the department since January, will serve as interim commissioner, Rawlings-Blake said.
“We need a change,” the mayor told a news conference, which was attended by Davis. “This was not an easy decision but it is one that is in the best interest of Baltimore. The people of Baltimore deserve better and we’re going to get better.”
The firing comes 2 1/2 months after the city broke out in riots following the death of Freddie Gray, who died in April of injuries he received in police custody. Six police officers have been criminally charged in Gray’s death.
After the unrest, arrests in the city plummeted and homicides spiked. Baltimore’s homicide total this year is 155, according to police. That’s a 48 percent increase compared with the same time last year. Shootings have increased 86 percent. In one of the latest examples, gunmen jumped out of two vans and fired at a group of people a few blocks from an urban university campus Tuesday night, killing three people.
Police said Wednesday that the shooting wasn’t random, but no arrests have been made.
“As we have seen in recent weeks, too many continue to die on our streets,” Rawlings-Blake said. Referring to Batts, she said “recent events proved that his being here was a distraction.”