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Baltimore Mayor Fires Police Commissioner

Both former Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake were criticized for their handling of riots sparked by the death of a young black man in police custody in April.

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Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Wednesday that she was replacing embattled Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts.

At a news conference at City Hall, Rawlings-Blake said Batts was being removed because his ongoing tenure was a distraction from crime fighting.

"Too many continue to die on our streets, including three just last night and one lost earlier today. Families are tired of dealing with this pain, and so am I," she said.

"Recent events have placed an intense focus on our police leadership, distracting many from what needs to be our main focus: the fight against crime. So we need a change," Rawlings-Blake added.

Rawlings-Blake did not mention the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old who suffered a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody on April 19. Rawlings-Blake and Batts had both faced harsh criticism for their handling of the rioting that followed Gray's death, as well as a rise of homicides in the city since. There have been 156 homicides in Baltimore in 2015 to date. One hundred of those have come in the past three months, according to data from the Baltimore Sun.

Batts released a statement to the Sun Wednesday night.

'I've been honored to serve the citizens and residents of Baltimore," he said. "I've been proud to be a police officer for this city."

Frustration among rank-and-file cops toward Batts had been increasing for years but came to a head following his handling of the unrest in Baltimore in the days after Gray's death.

"I'm surprised the mayor did it," one current officer told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday. "He should have been fired a long time ago."

As BuzzFeed News first reported, hundreds of officers raised their hands in support of a potential no-confidence vote against Batts at a union meeting in May.

"He'll be gone by December," one former officer predicted to BuzzFeed News at the time.

Asked for his thoughts on Wednesday, that officer said: "He needed to go. I didn't expect it to be this soon. But there was no way for her to keep him and not go down with his ship."

One current and two former Baltimore officers told BuzzFeed News that frustration toward Batts had been building since shortly after he took over as commissioner in 2012 and replaced many of the high-level commanders in place.

"He got rid of organically grown supervision within the department," one recently retired officer told BuzzFeed News in May. "Those guys were shown the door and suddenly we had a bunch of Kool-Aid drinkers."

Those current and former cops also said that many in the department suspected that Batts seemed more concerned over his political standing with the mayor than with the interest of rank-and-file officers.

"A lot of us don't really believe at the end of the day that he has our backs," one current officer told BuzzFeed News.

The frustration hit a new peak during the riots that erupted in Baltimore after Gray's death. The recently retired officer told BuzzFeed News that the department did not appear to be prepared for it, and many officers expressed anger at being told by commanders to stand down even as civilians threw rocks at them.

One current officer claimed that morale among rank-and-file officers reached a new low following the riots and the subsequent indictment of six officers tied to Gray's death.

"A lot of people are already talking about jumping ship," the officer said. "They really don't feel the support of this agency. It's definitely been a strong consideration for me. I don't know if I wanna go through the continued stress."

Perhaps sensing this atmosphere, Batts spoke before the hundreds of officers gathered at the union meeting in May.

"I want to come here and tell you guys that I think I let you guys down," he said, according to the Baltimore Sun, which obtained a recording of Batts' speech.

On Wednesday, the Fraternal Order of Police released a report critical of how department leadership handled the riots. The mayor's office responded with a statement criticizing the union for "[declining] to wait and gather all of the information before rushing to conclusions."

Hours later, Rawlings-Blake announced that Batts would be replaced. At the news conference, she said she would not placate the union and that Batts' firing was not related to the report.

Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has taken over as interim commissioner, according to a press release from the mayor's office.

"My focuses for the future really are pretty simple: It's all about the crime fight and the relationship with our community," he said Wednesday.

Baltimore police union president Gene Ryan said in a statement: "Our After Action Review, released this morning, detailed officers' concerns that the Baltimore Police Department's response to the riots was lacking in many areas. We look forward to working with Interim Commissioner Kevin Davis to unite the Baltimore Police Department and move both our Department and City forward."

State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby released a statement as well: "We've already met with Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and look forward to working with him and the dedicated men and women of the Baltimore Police Department. Mr. Davis brings an extensive amount of experience to Baltimore City and I believe together we will continue to move our city forward. We thank and appreciate Commissioner Anthony Batts for his service to the city of Baltimore."

Albert Samaha is the criminal justice reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Albert Samaha at albert.samaha@buzzfeed.com.

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