Council approves DeSousa as Baltimore’s police commissioner
BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore’s City Council confirmed Darryl DeSousa as commissioner of the city’s beleaguered police department with a 14-1 vote Monday.
DeSousa became acting commissioner last month after Baltimore’s mayor fired Commissioner Kevin Davis after 2½ years as top cop, saying a change in leadership was needed to oversee crime reduction strategies in the Mid-Atlantic city with an eye-popping violent crime rate.
On Monday evening, the council nearly unanimously ratified Mayor Catherine Pugh’s choice. The only vote against DeSousa came from Councilor Ryan Dorsey, who stated that Baltimore needs a new vision of policing, not “a commitment to more of the same.”
DeSousa, who joined Baltimore’s force in 1988, pledges to stamp out police corruption in the wake of a federal investigation that exposed dirty detectives and deeply embarrassed the department already struggling with low morale and a serious public trust deficit.
The 53-year-old veteran commander has launched an anti-corruption unit, introduced plans for random integrity and polygraph testing, and hired an inspector general to help oversee implementation of a federal consent decree requiring broad police reforms.
A few weeks ago, DeSousa characterized a wildly corrupt police unit that was the focus of a federal corruption investigation as a “few bad apples.” But at a public hearing last week, he apologized for a poor choice of words, saying he recognizes that the department’s problems go deeper than that.
“What I’m saying here today is: Are there bad or corrupt cops in the Baltimore Police Department? Yes, there are. Are we taking measures right now to find out who they are? Yes,” DeSousa said before a council committee last week.
DeSousa has plans to meet with the FBI this week as part of an investigation looking into accusations of wrongdoing against a number of current and former officers revealed at a recent jury trial that resulted in the convictions of two detectives for racketeering and robbery.
DeSousa also vows to reduce Baltimore’s violent crime rate by putting more officers on the streets, saturating “hot spots,” and using a more analytical approach. As acting commissioner, he has already overseen a major shake-up of the department’s command structure.
The city of roughly 615,000 inhabitants ended 2017 with 343 killings, bringing Baltimore’s annual homicide rate to its highest ever: roughly 56 killings per 100,000 people. In comparison, Los Angeles, with about 4 million residents, saw 305 homicides last year.
Monday evening’s council authorization came days after a subcommittee voted in favor of hiring DeSousa. His appointment and the department drew some heated criticism from various citizens, concerns that were aired in a public hearing.
But DeSousa has also drawn strong support from a number of other citizens, including community activists and religious leaders who praise his temperament and what they see as a demonstrated commitment to improving ties between officers and the many residents who distrust the department after years of heavy-handed tactics and discriminatory policing.
The appointment of the veteran commander to the force’s top post recently revived questions about deadly shootings he was involved in as an officer 23 years ago.
DeSousa was cleared of any wrongdoing in the 1995 shootings, which included the death of an 18-year-old bystander killed by a ricocheted bullet. Pugh said the shootings were “completely vetted.”
Besides a slew of significant challenges, the police commissioner position in Baltimore comes with a $210,000 annual salary and a roughly five-year contract effective through June 2022.
David McFadden on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dmcfadd