In response to a steep increase in violence in the city, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired police Commissioner Anthony Batts Wednesday afternoon.
In a press conference at city hall, Rawlings-Blake commended Batts for modernizing the police force and bringing increased transparency and accountability. But, she said the increased violence during the past few weeks was too much. Baltimore has seen a 48 percent increase in violence in comparison to the same period last year, with 155 homicides this year.
"Too many continue to die on our street, including three just last night and one lost earlier today," Rawlings-Blake said at the press conference. "Families are tired of feeling this pain and so am I."
Rawlings-Blake said the recent attention directed at the leadership of the department after the death of Freddie Gray and the subsequent protests that sometimes turned violent was a distraction from what the department's main goal should be — fighting crime.
"His being here was a distraction…it's important we can understand that we cannot continue to debate the leadership," she said.
The decision came on the same day as the release of a report from the Fraternal Order of Police, which investigated police action in response to Freddie Gray protests. The report was critical of both the mayor and Batts, saying they had done nothing "to investigate the successes or failures of the leadership during the riots." Rawlings-Blake said the report was not a factor in the decision to remove Batts or to "placate" the union. Earlier today she blasted the union for "rushing to conclusions" and doing a disservice to officers "who acted so courageously during the unrest."
The report found officers had little to no training in dealing with the protests and violence that sometimes accompanied them, and that the police response was "inadequate in many areas." Additionally, it found that the "credible threat" of gang members looking to "take out" law enforcement officers was an unconfirmed rumor. Six officers have been charged in Gray's death and the US Department of Justice is leading a civil rights review of the department.
The mayor said Kevin Davis, who will step in as interim police commissioner and previously served as deputy police commissioner, would bring accountability to police and hold officers who act out of line responsible. Davis said he has two focuses for the future: to fight crime and serve the community.
"This is a time of refocusing and re-energizing and going after the folks who are harming this community," Davis said. "At the same time we need to serve the community."
Batts was appointed commissioner in 2012, and previously served as chief of police in Long Beach, California, and Oakland, California.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Watch the Vice News dispatch on the unrest in Baltimore following Freddie Gray's death.