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Preparing for Negotiation. She took it, along with a two-thirds salary cut. The lawlessness that followed the police pullback had persisted, and the city ended with homicides, a 62 percent increase over the year before, within a dozen deaths of the worst year of the s. Ninety-three percent of the victims were black. The rate at which detectives were able to close homicide cases fell from 50 percent in to 30 percent, as residents grew even warier of calling in tips or testifying. By that point, Baltimore had elected yet another new mayor: Catherine Pugh, who won the Democratic primary that April — in Baltimore, the only election that matters — after Rawlings-Blake opted not to run for re-election.
Very few people knew what to expect from Pugh. A longtime state legislator, she had won mostly by virtue of not being Sheila Dixon, who, having served her community-service sentence, ran again for her old job and narrowly lost.
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At the CitiStat meeting, a major topic of discussion was a rise in carjackings. Earlier that month, an year-old member of the City Council was attacked by two teenage boys while getting into her car in a parking garage, leaving her with a black eye. Davis, the commissioner, and his deputy said that the carjackings appeared to be the work of violent drug crews, who were deploying teenagers to steal cars as an initiation of sorts, and then often using the cars while committing homicides.
Pugh grew agitated.
She declared the meeting a waste of her time and left. It was the last CitiStat meeting she would attend for at least six months. Pugh seemed overwhelmed by the continuing violence. It was not until August that she announced her plan to counter it. This was true, but it risked overlooking the most immediate dilemma: People inclined toward lawbreaking increasingly thought they could do so with impunity.
Delivery of basic services to address root-cause problems was also undermined by the departure of key city officials, as word spread that Pugh was not easy to work for. By this point, it was plain that the surge in violence was not simply going to abate. Robberies and burglaries had also risen sharply. There were other, more ambient signs of disorder: the dirt bikes, squeegee boys at intersections. Bridgeford went to the scenes to mourn the victims.
Gene Ryan, the leader of the police union, complained that his organization had been shut out of the process of drafting it. The officer started his shift at 9 a. They cruised block after block of rowhouses in an especially drug-plagued area. The officer received a text message to disperse a cluster of young men — a frequent point of confrontation in the city.
Young men often congregate in front of corner stores or liquor stores, sometimes just hanging out, other times selling drugs; the city would have a record fatal opioid overdoses in As he understood it, the consent decree barred him from dispersing the young men. But then his phone rang. Which was indeed what the call was. He and Guy drove to the address, where half a dozen young men in their late teens or early 20s were standing outside.
The officer got out of the car and told them to move along. For Guy, the moment affirmed her belief in the consent decree.
This sort of rote policing seemed pointless; nothing was accomplished by confronting the young men beyond fomenting ill will. The corners would not be so crowded if we actually became responsive to community needs.
On Nov. Suiter told his partner he had seen someone suspicious in a vacant lot and went to investigate. Shots rang out. His partner found Suiter bleeding from the head, his gun lying under his body. The year-old father of five died the next day. His death was ruled a homicide, the th of the year. The police locked down six square blocks around the scene for six days. As the public learned in the week that followed, Suiter was scheduled to testify the next day before a grand jury in a vast corruption case that federal prosecutors filed earlier in the year: a conspiracy that painted a picture of a Police Department that, amid the lawlessness of the city, had descended into widespread lawlessness itself.
The accused were eight current and former members of an elite plainclothes unit called the Gun Trace Task Force, which, prosecutors said, had developed a penchant for robbing people, mostly but not exclusively drug dealers. Six of the officers pleaded guilty to racketeering and robbery. The trial of the remaining two, when it started in January , offered daily revelations of brazen amorality. And there was the extremity of their fraudulent overtime, many tens of thousands of dollars for each — they were being paid while at the beach, while spending weeks doing exurban home renovations — all of it draining the treasury of a city where, as the trial was taking place, thousands of children were shivering in unheated classrooms.
Some officers had been lining their pockets for years, but their activities became a true conspiracy amid the chaos of , as commanders were so desperate to stem the violence that they gave them free rein. After the trial concluded, a dozen officers gathered at headquarters for a focus group, convened by the department to solicit their input on new policies stemming from the consent decree, on which they were to start receiving training in But the officers had no interest in talking about the decree, according to one participant.
Instead, they vented about the impossibility of doing their job in a department in meltdown. The officers were also angry about the lack of resources and equipment.
They fumed over the conflicting orders they received. In January , Pugh replaced Kevin Davis with a new commissioner, Darryl De Sousa, but De Sousa resigned five months later after federal prosecutors charged him with failing to file tax returns for three recent years. The interim commissioner, Gary Tuggle, had barely stepped into the revolving door of leadership when he found himself facing fresh crises: an officer who quit after being caught on video pummeling a man on the sidewalk, another found passed out drunk in his patrol car, a top commander who quit after throwing a chair against a wall during an argument at Police Headquarters.
And then there was the stunning conclusion of the independent review panel investigating the death of Detective Suiter: He had most likely committed suicide in the vacant lot and made it look like a cop-killing, the panel ruled in August. The investigators believed his suicide was possibly due to his ties to the corruption case. On a hot day in mid-August, several dozen city officials, police officers and commanders gathered at a bedraggled shopping plaza in the Highlandtown section of southeast Baltimore for one of the regular neighborhood walks that Mayor Pugh was conducting in her effort to exude a sense of authority.
The mass of suits and uniforms did a slow circuit of a few blocks of rowhouses, trailing behind Pugh. A neighborhood leader pointed out problem spots: a dark block where prostitutes congregated, a bus stop in front of a liquor store that allowed loiterers to claim they were waiting for the bus, piles of trash. She expressed particular displeasure over the trash bags that had been piled into containers in advance of pickup day. Two weeks later, I met Pugh in her office in City Hall. The month was on its way to ending with 30 homicides, almost one per day.
But when I started to ask her about the surge in violence since , she cut me off. Pugh looked down at an iPad, swiping through crime-data summaries.
In October of last year, when I created the Violence Reduction Initiative, the following month, November, we dropped by almost 18 percent.