National News

Head of Baltimore’s Troubled Police Quits; Third to Go in 3 Years

Posted May 15, 2018 3:13 p.m. EDT

Baltimore lost its third police commissioner in three years on Tuesday, the latest blow to the city’s efforts to come to grips with a host of serious problems, including the nation’s highest big-city murder rate; a shocking corruption scandal; abusive police practices documented in a Justice Department investigation; and the lingering aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray.

The commissioner, Darryl De Sousa, 53, a career Baltimore officer, had been in the post for just four months. He resigned after being charged by federal prosecutors in Maryland with willfully failing to file income tax returns for 2013, 2014 and 2015. The charges are misdemeanors, with a maximum sentence of up to one year in prison and a $25,000 fine for each of the three counts.

When the matter first came to light, the mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, backed De Sousa, who acknowledged that he had failed to file the returns but said he had paid his taxes through withholding. He said there was “no excuse” for failing to file, and attributed what he had done to failing to “sufficiently prioritize my personal affairs.”

But a day later, after others in the community expressed serious concerns about having the city’s police force led by someone under the cloud of federal charges, the mayor suspended him.

The two previous police commissioners, Anthony Batts and Kevin Davis, were fired — Batts in 2015 and Davis in January.

The interim police commissioner will continue to be Gary Tuggle, who was appointed after De Sousa was suspended last week. Tuggle formerly ran the Baltimore office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and had recently been hired by the city as a deputy police commissioner.

The mayor has already begun a national search for a permanent replacement, who would take office with a very full plate.

Baltimore, with a population of about 600,000, is not just struggling to curb a high violent crime rate, averaging nearly one murder a day last year. It is also wrestling with the implementation of a federal consent decree meant to overhaul the police force and reduce racial bias and other abusive practices. That process has been too slow, critics say.

Many in the city remain angry over the death of Gray in police custody three years ago, and the riots that followed, as well as the startling revelations from a recent corruption trial. Whoever becomes commissioner will face a hard road ahead in gaining the trust of residents.

Pugh sought on Tuesday to limit the fallout from De Sousa’s resignation and assure residents that it would not hamper efforts to overhaul policing in the city.

“This development in no way alters our strategic efforts to reduce crime by addressing its root causes in our most neglected neighborhoods,” she said.

The next commissioner would be the fifth to hold the post in the past half-dozen years, not including two interim commissioners.

“Baltimore has really faced some trauma in the stability of its last three commissioners,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit research group.

“It’s like a prize fighter who staggers to his feet, and just as he gets back up, he gets hit,” Wexler said. “I can’t think of another big city that has gone through this number of police chiefs this quickly.”