Baltimore police commissioner defends department’s crime-fighting efforts

Commissioner Michael Harrison announced 118 arrests during a press conference meant to dispel claims that the department does not have a 'sense of urgency'

Jessica Anderson
The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — After a particularly violent day in Baltimore, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison held a news conference to announce 118 arrests of individuals wanted for various charges, including attempted murder and other offenses.

“There are claims that this police department does not have the sense of urgency. That assertion is absolutely baseless and couldn’t be further from the truth," Harrison said at a brief news conference Wednesday at police headquarters where he announced a two-week long “citywide fugitive roundup” of individuals wanted for various crimes.

Baltimore Police commissioner Michael Harrison holds a press conference announcing 118 arrests after 10 people were shot and killed in a 24-hour span.
Baltimore Police commissioner Michael Harrison holds a press conference announcing 118 arrests after 10 people were shot and killed in a 24-hour span.

The department served the arrest warrants on 118 people, Harrison said.

One person is charged with attempted murder, three for non-fatal shootings, four for robbery, two for first and second-degree rape, one for home invasion, eight for first-degree assault, seven for burglaries, three for auto theft, 10 for failure to appear in court, and six for violation of probation, according to a statement from the department noting 48 of the “most significant arrests," a spokesman said.

In the process, Harrison said police confiscated four handguns and made three additional arrests in connection with those guns.

Harrison said the warrants were a result of partnerships with Baltimore County Police, the FBI, the Baltimore Sheriff’s Office and other agencies.

“I have no doubt, working together, we will make Baltimore a safer city," he said.

The announcement Wednesday comes after 10 people were shot in a 24-hour span in the city, including three people who were killed.

With two weeks still left in the year, the city is nearing its previous all-time record high for homicides per capita. As of Wednesday, 330 people have been killed, surpassing the 309 people killed in all of 2018 and 318 killed in 2016. The city could potentially surpass the 342 killed in both 2017, which set a new record for killings per capita. The most homicides to occur in a year was 353 in 1993, but the city had some 100,000 more residents then.

Harrison, who was hired by former Mayor Catherine Pugh in January, in part because of his experience in leading the New Orleans Police Department through a consent decree, similar to one imposed on Baltimore, has had to defend the reform process in the face of continued high crime. Some residents, the police officers union, and some politicians and mayoral candidates have questioned the focus on policing reforms, arguing it is detracting from the department’s primary focus of reducing crime.

In response to the recent violence, the police union tweeted before the news conference, “three homicides and seven non-fatal shootings in the last 24 hours... 743 failed murders (shootings) this year compared to 650 this time last year. Where is the plan?#CityinCrisis.”

Harrison introduced a long-term crime plan this past summer where he set goals for the department, such as reducing police response times and attempting to focus officers on spending less time responding to calls and more time in the community. A shorter-term plan was created by focusing stretched police resources to narrow, specific areas of the city which experience the most violence.

When asked if his crime plans were working, Harrison said it is, “but it is a comprehensive crime plan," and that it will take time to change the city’s violent culture.

Harrison said in addition to adjusting deployment strategies, authorities must address “why those criminals made those decisions in the first place,” which comes from deterring violence and tougher consequences.

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who is among a field of crowded candidates running for mayor, stood beside Harrison Wednesday. "To the criminals committing violence on our streets, I have a simple message for you. We are coming after you and we won’t stop until you are behind bars,” Young said.

When asked whether the authorities were acting with urgency where communities face regular violence, Young said, "What I can say is, I feel it personally. I had three of my nephews gunned down in the city of Baltimore and there is no closure for my family. I know how they feel firsthand.”

Young said police are working to get those committing the violence off the streets.

"We can reduce the crime in Baltimore city” with help of the community and our law enforcement partners, Young said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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