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Baltimore shakes up police force amid worst crime spike since 1970s (+video)

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Patrick Semansky/AP

(Read caption) Interim Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Kevin Davis speaks at a news conference, Wednesday, July 8, 2015, in Baltimore, after Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced her firing of Commissioner Anthony Batts.

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The embattled Baltimore police force is getting a major shake up amid amid a city-wide spike in homicides and accusations that department leadership exacerbated the civil unrest following the April death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. 

On Wednesday, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, less than three years after she had hand-picked Mr. Batts to reform to the department. Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Davis will serve as an interim commissioner.

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Batts pledged that his department will continue to “progress at reducing violent crime and holding accountable those that perpetrate violence in our good streets,” at a swearing-in ceremony in November 2012. But since crime levels have gotten worse.

The city is currently experiencing the worst crime spike since the 1970s. So far this year, the city's homicide rate has increased by 48 percent compared with last year; and shootings have increased 86 percent, according to police reports.

At the same time, police tactics have also come under scrutiny. Last fall the Baltimore Sun reported that the the city had paid out $5.7 million since 2011 to settle lawsuits over allegations of police brutality. Freddie Gray's death resulting from a spinal chord injury incurred during his arrest reignited controversy over the way Baltimore police treat suspects in custody. Police response to the protests sparked by Mr. Gray's death have prompted further criticisms.

Also on Wednesday, the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police, released a post mortem report saying that “the riots were preventable.”

The report questions Batts decision to request additional assistance of the National Guard and suggested that his direct orders to officers not to engage any protesters had exacerbated the situation. The report states:

On Sunday, April 26, 2015, after hearing many horrific reports from the officers, President Ryan, a Baltimore Police Lieutenant with 32 years of experience, felt it necessary to contact the Police Commissioner with his many concerns. President Ryan called Commissioner Batts and relayed to him what he had heard from the officers who were deployed to Camden Yards, downtown Baltimore and the Western District. President Ryan then told Commissioner Batts that the officers were overwhelmed and that he should request the assistance of the National Guard in preparation for planned protests on Monday, the day of Freddie Gray’s funeral. Commissioner Batts replied that he did not think that was necessary.

Commissioner Batts and command staff members addressed officers during a roll call on April 25, 2015 at Police Headquarters. Of those officers who were present, and with whom the After Action Review Committee spoke, each reported being given direct orders from Commissioner Batts and command staff members not to engage any protestors. Officers were ordered to allow the protesters room to destroy and allow the destruction of property so that the rioters would appear to be the aggressors.

Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday that Batts’ presence had become a distraction in a city that need to focus on ending its high homicide rate, the Baltimore Sun reported.

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"Too many continue to die on our streets, including three just last night and one lost earlier today," Rawlings-Blake said. "Families are tired of feeling this pain, and so am I.... We need a change."