Last week, the Guide published comments made by Police Commissioner Anthony Batts in response to questions from residents at the Southeast District Police Community Relations Council meeting held on Monday, Jan. 6.
Batts also spoke about the Police Department’s strategic plan: “Public Safety in the City of Baltimore: A Strategic Plan for Improvement.” He called it “our corporate business plan,” and said that new hires and potential promotions are now tested on it. At the previous Police Community Relations Council meeting, City Council President Jack Young had stated that while he voted to fund the strategic plan, he wasn’t happy with the resulting document.
Batts zeroed in on the problems the plan identified. For example, he noted that while 99 percent of employees of the Baltimore Police Department believe they are team players, only 68 percent of those employees believe the department is committed to quality service.
“That’s a D grade,” said Batts.
The commissioner also commented on a survey item that said that only 23 percent of employees believe that they are recognized for their efforts and their performance.
Previously the same evening, Batts had said that the Police Department at one time operated under an internal system of “godfathers and godmothers”—that “no harm would come” to officers under the wings of certain mentors.
“When I came through the door, I might have upset some people because I destabilized some traditions,” he said. “Not legacies—traditions.”
Batts said that he wants merit to play a larger role in the department’s command structure.
“One of my biggest compliments was when somebody said, ‘Before you came in, we didn’t feel like it was fair; it didn’t seem like everybody had an opportunity,’” he said, adding that the department currently administers tests for candidates for the high ranks.
According to the strategic plan, 31 percent of employees of the Baltimore Police Department believe they have the equipment needed to do the job. Batts lamented the fact that cruisers are not equipped with computers.
“That affects my ability to recruit officers,” he said.
He also said that the department’s dated technology slows communication, to sometimes disastrous results. The police once received a tip for a shooting that was to occur in the Western District, he said. The tip was typed up, faxed to the Western District, printed, copied, and distributed as sheets of paper to the district’s patrol officers. By the time they got the word, according to Batts, “the shooting had taken place.”
Batts said he hopes to get cruisers equipped with iPhone-like tablets.
“We’re coming out of the dark ages,” he said.
Batts touched on citizens’ perceptions of police issues in Baltimore. He noted that citizens have identified four top policing priorities: violent crime, followed by 911 response, followed by illegal gang activity, followed by property crime.
Batts said that he agreed that addressing property crime is important, as small offenses lead to more and larger offenses, per the “broken window issue”—a “broken window” or presence of small-time crime might lead the unsavory elements to believe that a neighborhood is apathetic and unlikely to resist a decline into more serious crime.
Batts also noted that while a lot of citizens feel safe or very safe in their neighborhoods, that number is lower (73 percent) in downtown Baltimore, particularly at night (34 percent).
Per the strategic plan data, the flavor of the police-public relationship needs improvement. Sixty-eight percent agree or strongly agree that the police are polite to people; 61 percent agree or strongly agree that officers can be trusted; 54 percent believe that police treat citizens with dignity and respect.
“In some areas of the city, there is a visceral hatred of this uniform,” commented Batts. “I hear from multiple parts of the city that the way we talk to people is unacceptable.”
Lastly, Batts addressed the city’s homicide rate, over 200 in 2013, an increase from previous years and a departure from the previous downward trend in murders.
Batts said that he wasn’t making any excuses for the higher rate, but said, “We had one district just go upside down for us.”
He said that a couple of the command officers at the Western District—the one that went “upside down”—had been dealing with difficult family issues, which complicated operations. The Eastern District, by contrast, was “way down” in homicides, Batts said.
by Erik Zygmont