Batts brings new look to police with command shake-up

'Up-and-coming talent' promoted as some on council worry about continuity

  • Baltimore Police are shaking up their command staff.
Baltimore Police are shaking up their command staff. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
July 09, 2013|By Justin Fenton and Justin George, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Police Department promoted 15 commanders Tuesday and put new faces at the helms of four patrol districts and key investigative units — moves that drew concerns from some City Council members, who called for continuity following a violent summer outburst that saw dozens shot.

Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said the shake-up marks the end — for now — of a reorganization that has been continuing since he took over the department last fall. He said he sought to promote "up-and-coming talent" while tweaking or adding roles to better respond to community concerns.

"When I got here, a lot of these people, I did not know their strengths, their weaknesses, their capabilities," Batts said. "We have a lot of bright, young leaders that I want to get into positions where they have time to grow, mature, evolve and complement some of my more senior command."

But some council members expressed concern. The changes reshuffle the district commanders who are the faces for neighborhood associations and community groups when problems arise on their blocks.

They also come as police are trying to stabilize communities after more than 40 shootings in the last 10 days of June. Shootings are up 13 percent this year compared with the same period last year.

"Of all moments in our recent history, this is the worst time to take away leaders who are on the ground level," said longtime Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. She represents parts of the Northern District, from which Maj. Sabrina Tapp-Harper was transferred to a position at police headquarters.

Also moved was Lt. Col. Melissa Hyatt, the Central District commander, who will now oversee the districts surrounding the city's waterfront, a newly created position. It was her third promotion in less than two years.

Maj. Johnny Delgado of the Northwestern District, the longest-tenured district supervisor, will become the night commander. Batts referred to the position as the "commissioner of the City of Baltimore at nighttime."

Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton said Delgado was beloved in the Northwestern District for his "hands-on" approach.

"This is bad timing for a change like this," she said. "The city is going, right now, through a period of violence. [Delgado] has been keeping calm in the Northwest area, including one of the main areas of my district: the Park Heights community."

But other council members said they supported Batts' moves.

"I think the majority of the moves are great for the department and the city of Baltimore," said Councilman Brandon Scott, vice chairman of the public safety committee. "There is some great young talent, and sometimes you have to go to the bench and see if you have stronger leadership."

Councilman William Cole IV, who represents South Baltimore and downtown, said he had "no issues with [Batts] trying to build his team."

Such churn is common at the Police Department, which has a young command staff and grapples with turnover.

Since Batts took the top police job last fall, most of the changes have occurred high up in the departmental hierarchy or within divisions that deal more with officers than with the public. Batts has said he has been focused on creating a "deeper bench."

He created a new "professional standards" bureau and recruited a commander from the Los Angeles Police Department to lead it. He has replaced a departing internal affairs director, moved the longtime department spokesman, and created a third deputy commissioner position, which the department hasn't had since the 1990s. Batts also launched a community partnership division.

Some changes are the result of retirements, and other positions — such as the director of the training academy — remain unfilled.

"One of the things I told my command staff is, I'm not interested in cliques. I'm only interested in team players and building teams," he said.

Of those promoted, Batts said, "They're all team players, and not focused on politics and political games."

As of July 6, the most recent crime statistics available, homicides were up 11 percent compared with the same time last year, while non-fatal shootings were up 16 percent.

Total gun crimes were up 8 percent. Violent crimes overall were down 4 percent, driven by a 10 percent decline in aggravated assaults.

While total crime is up slightly this year in the Northwest District, advocates say Delgado worked with the community on an array of issues, including liquor licenses and street lighting.

His efforts on illegal dirt bikes led to the creation of a special email account for residents to submit tips. He partnered with a local church to renovate the Northwest District police station, a project that is nearing completion.

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