Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired police chief Anthony Batts this week. His firing comes on the heels of the unrest in Baltimore following the death of 25 year old Freddie Gray allegedly caused by 6 police officers who were charged. While Batts was originally the darling of those elite group of officers who bring a different perspective to the force, he was hardly liked and respected by his officers and their police union. Batts spoke out in April during a press conference and stated that his officers did not follow police protocol in failing to seat belt Freddie Gray. Gray was found 44 minutes after his arrest in an unconscious state. He died days later of spinal injuries.
Batts’ comments about the Baltimore police didn’t stop there. He said the officers should have sought medical attention for Gray. After that, whatever he said caused the ire of the men and women he commanded and the Baltimore Police Union. And what transpired was a spike in crime and murders in Baltimore. Batts blamed it on the rise in drugs following the April riots in Baltimore. He didn’t want to admit his men and women were responsible for a work slowdown. Residents of West Baltimore had a different version. Many stated that before Gray’s death, the police were a dominant force in their neighborhood. After Gray’s death and the charges brought against the 6 officers. Baltimore police were practically non-existent in the West Baltimore neighborhood where police arrested Gray. The lack of police presence in those communities led to increased violence and murders.
The Baltimore police union was irate at Batts for what they termed Batts’ failure to protect the police officers during the Baltimore riots. Many officers as well as Baltimore residents were injured. The union blamed the police officers’ injuries on Batts for his failure to have a better action plan to prevent violence. The union apparently wanted a more heavy handed approach to the unrest. That approach would likely cause even more injuries to the officers and residents. The union was notably silent on the issue of whether police protocol specifically required a seat belt.
And many criticized Mayor Rawlings-Blake for any delay in calling Governor Hogan to order in the National Guard. The police union faulted her. Mayor Rawlings faces a re-election in 2016. Her nemesis and former Mayor Sheila Dixon announced plans to run for her old job. Rawlings-Blake faces a decision to get crime under control as it was under former Mayor Dixon’s term.
With the lack of support from the Baltimore Police union and the police, increased crime and an upcoming 2016 mayoral election, Mayor Rawlings faced a political decision on Batts. She needed to look as if changes needed to be made with a new police chief.
With the police officers and Baltimore police union against Batts, a police work slowdown and a mayor facing what appears to be a hotly contested re-election, Batts had no way out. Rawlings- Blake fired Batts to protect her job more so than the fact he had not done his job. In politics, protecting one’s own turf is far more important than staying the course.
I read an article in the Marshall Project today that spoke about Baltimore needing a police chief who will have street cred among its officers that Batts allegedly lacked, support in communities, the churches and the businesses. It failed to mention the police union. Once Batts lost the support of the police union and the police along with the police work slowdown, his fate began. And the nail closed the coffin. In other words, the new Baltimore Police Chief must be god like. He or she must be loved by all, the police, the union, the communities, the businesses and the churches. For change to occur, love by all will not be a prerequisite.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, former Baltimore prosecutor and native of Baltimore. She frequently appears on Al Jazeera America, BET, C-Span, CCTV- America, MSNBC, PBS, NPR among others.