Mayor, City Council members take on shootings

Rawlings-Blake 'sad about the state of our community'

June 26, 2013|By Justin Fenton, Yvonne Wenger and Justin George, The Baltimore Sun

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, making her most extensive comments on the wave of violence that has shaken the city, said Wednesday that she was “sad about the state of our community” and pleaded with residents to help detectives solve cases.

Rawlings-Blake struck an uncharacteristically frank tone at a City Hall news conference, while police said they were making progress on arrests and pledged to communicate better with the public.

Five people were shot Tuesday night, one fatally, and two more shootings were reported Wednesday — one in the morning, when a gunshot victim walked into Union Memorial hospital, and one in the evening, when a man was shot in the arm in the Poppleton neighborhood.

The incidents brought the total number shot since Friday to 29. Ten victims have died.

Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said the department’s initial “messaging” about the shootings had been “terrible.” He said he had temporarily reassigned spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, who drew criticism for saying during the weekend violence that the city was generally satisfied with crime reductions.

Rawlings-Blake, who had given limited comments on the wave of shootings while out of town at a conference, lamented the “terrible display of ugly and senseless violence.”

“There’s a mix of emotions — it’s angry, it’s frustrated, it’s extreme sadness, particularly when we look at the fact that it's not outside invaders killing members of our community. It’s us killing us,” Rawlings-Blake said. “It sickens me that too many of our residents feel unsafe in our neighborhoods, even inside their own homes.”

At a special meeting Wednesday evening, members of the City Council’s public safety committee expressed skepticism about Batts’ approach of increasing patrol officers.

“We can't bring in the National Guard,” Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector said. “We can't make this a war zone.”

Anthony McCarthy, a radio show host and political consultant who worked in Mayor Sheila Dixon’s administration, said city officials underestimated the public’s response to the crimes and need to do more than work on messaging.

“I think [the public] has been fed a steady diet of ‘declining violence, best it’s been in decades,’ and now we’ve been slapped in the face with reality,” McCarthy said. “Because we have this impression that the citizens of our city are apathetic about politics and policy and what’s going on, I think a lot of elected officials, including our mayor, believe you can just offer tepid reassurances that you’re on the case, and people are going to take it at face value.”

Homicides in Baltimore dropped to a three-decade low in 2011. But at 112 killings not halfway through 2013, they are now on track to increase for the second consecutive year.

Some recent incidents here have been particularly brazen. At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, a group of men holding T-shirts over their faces opened fire on a man holding a baby in the 900 block of McCulloh Street, just off Martin Luther King Boulevard.

The man, who was hit by the gunfire, fled with the child in his arms to the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Midtown Campus. A woman was also struck in the incident.

Batts, who was named commissioner last fall, said he has “made it very clear to my staff, to our organization that we will respond and respond assertively.”

“You don't understand what my outrage is about these circumstances,” Batts said.

Maj. Dennis Smith, commander of the unit that investigates shootings, robberies and serious assaults, said detectives were working shooting cases nonstop.

In an unusual move, detectives are being added to foot patrols, which have been ordered to develop information in hot spots.

Smith said detectives have closed or are closing in on arrests in several cases. They arrested 23-year-old Ricky Fair of Baltimore Wednesday in a Friday afternoon shooting in the 1600 block of Smallwood Ave., and had two in custody for one of Tuesday’s shootings. Fair had no attorney listed in court records for this case.

Batts said he had moved Guglielmi, the department’s chief spokesman since December 2008, to an assignment in which he will work more closely with the community. Guglielmi, whose salary was $99,000 last year, is not a sworn officer.

Batts said the temporary move to the recently formed Community Partnership Division “will be good for him and good for us.” Guglielmi declined to comment.

Batts said the agency is responding to the violence, but had difficulty conveying it over the weekend. He told the public safety committee Wednesday he would start making his command staff available for media interviews.

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