BALTIMORE — Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday that she has fired Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, 2 1/2 months after riots broke out in the city following the death of a man who was injured in police custody.
The mayor said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, shortly after announcing her decision in a three-paragraph news release, that Batts’s presence had become too much of a distraction from fighting the city’s recent increase in violence.
“As we have seen in recent weeks, too many continue to die on our streets, including three just last night and one lost earlier today. Families are tired of feeling this pain, and so am I. Recent events have placed an intense focus on our police leadership, distracting many,” Rawlings-Blake said. “It is clear that the focus has been too much on the leadership of the department and not enough on the crime fight.”
She has named Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Davis as interim commissioner.
Davis spoke briefly at the news conference and praised Batts. “He’s a friend. He’s a mentor. There aren’t many police chiefs and commissioners in this country who have done what he’s done,” Davis said. “My friendship with Commissioner Batts, everything I’ve learned from him, will help me serve the city going forward.”
Rawlings-Blake also commended Batts’s leadership of the police department. “Under Commissioner Batts, we have made Baltimore safer,” she said.
Baltimore was rocked with civil unrest in late April after black resident Freddie Gray died one week after suffering a critical spinal injury in police custody. Six police officers have been criminally charged in Gray’s death.
Since the rioting stopped, the city has seen a sharp increase in violence, with 155 homicides this year, a 48 percent increase over the same period last year.
The U.S. Justice Department is conducting a civil rights review of the department, and Batts has been criticized by the Baltimore police union.
In a 32-page report released Wednesday, the Baltimore police union called the April riots “preventable” and accused the police of being more concerned with image than safety, according to the Baltimore Sun.
“Officers characterized the Baltimore Police Department’s leadership during the riots as unprepared, politically motivated, uncaring and confusing,” union President Gene Ryan said at a news conference.
Baltimoreans United Leadership Development group issued a statement saying that it had lost confidence in Batts’s ability to curb violence in the city and planned to call for his resignation on Thursday, the Baltimore Sun reported.
On Tuesday, the police department announced that an outside organization will review the department’s response to the civil unrest that followed Gray’s death. Most of the unrest took place on April 27, prompted by Gray’s death on April 19.
Rawlings-Blake appointed Batts as police commissioner in September 2012.
He has had more than three decades of experience in law enforcement, according to his biography on the Baltimore Police Department Web site, including serving as chief of police in Long Beach, California, and Oakland, California.
He started his career in 1982 as an officer with the Long Beach department, working his way up to chief over a 20-year span. He also served as city manager of Long Beach for four months and taught at California State University, Long Beach. He was chief in Oakland for two years, from 2009 to 2011.
Batts earned a doctorate in public administration from the University of La Verne, a master’s in business management from the University of Redlands, and a bachelor’s in law enforcement administration from California State University, Long Beach.
He is a father of three children.
Washington Post staff reporter Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.