Facing Near-Record Crime, Baltimore Enlists Feds' Help

by | August 4, 2015

By Justin Fenton

Federal agents met with Baltimore Police Department homicide detectives Monday to begin a two-month partnership with the goal of curbing this summer's record pace of violence.

Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the 10 agents from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Secret Service gathered and discussed cases in which police have identified suspects but need an extra boost to file charges.

Davis huddled in Washington on Monday with police chiefs from across the country to discuss an increase in violence in several major cities.

"American cities have not seen the uptick in homicides that we're seeing ... since 2006," Davis said Monday afternoon. "We're all at the table. Other cities are looking to Baltimore -- they want to know what Baltimore is going to do about it."

Baltimore has seen 192 homicides this year, after 208 killings in all of last year. Sixty percent -- or 116 -- of this year's killings have occurred in just the last three months.

The surge followed the April death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray and the charging of six police officers involved in his arrest and transport.

The three-month total is the highest in the city since at least 1970. The number of nonfatal shootings is up more than 80 percent for the year and has eclipsed the total for all of last year.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who cited the spike in violence when she fired Commissioner Anthony W. Batts last month, said the city has "been able to get crime surges under control in the past."

"But this is different and requires a different response," Rawlings-Blake said Monday at a news conference outside police headquarters.

The mayor was flanked by members of Maryland's congressional delegation, state officials, City Council members, the state's attorney and community leaders.

"We need to lower the murder rate, lower the crime rate, increase the confidence level that Baltimore is a good, strong, safe city to live in, to work in, to worship in," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said.

Authorities have for years promoted close working relationships among city, state and federal law enforcement agencies and a focus on repeat offenders. But officials say they have been working to bolster those efforts. They rolled out a "war room" last month to put police, federal agents and prosecutors together to study trends and work on cases.

The B-FED task force, announced Sunday, is unique, officials say, because it will put federal agents inside Baltimore's homicide unit to work at the direction of city police.

Special Agent David Cheplak, a spokesman for the ATF, said his agency contributed 12 special agents to the war room -- more than any other federal agency -- and is looking to add two to the new task force.

"The understanding is that an agent will be partnered up with a current homicide detective, given a caseload with the goal being to clear these homicides," Cheplak said.

Six of the agents now working with Baltimore police were pulled from other offices on the East Coast. Cheplak said agents are assisting in any way they can -- he himself was among those helping police with controlled drug buys, surveillance and other contributions.

Brian Murphy, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service office in Baltimore, has assigned one agent to the task force.

"We're not riding along in cars," Murphy said. "We're going to provide the assistance we can provide. We may look at cases with them. If there's a lead involving financial crimes or financial activities, we'd be happy to run with that."

The Drug Enforcement Administration is sending two agents; the FBI is sending one. Officials from those agencies said their personnel would serve a support role.

"We've got to take a different look at things, whether it's fresh eyes or just looking at it in a different way," DEA spokesman Todd Edwards said.

The FBI last week appointed a new Special Agent in Charge, Kevin Perkins, to lead its Baltimore office. Perkins, a certified public accountant, led the Baltimore office from 2004 to 2006.

Mikulski said the federal agencies have resources such as crime labs and gun-tracing capabilities that can help Baltimore police investigations.

"We've got the whole country on the side of Baltimore now," Mikulski said.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings warned that police can't quell the crime without the community's help.

"The police need the community, and the community needs the police," Cummings said at the news conference. "I've stopped by here to beg the public to cooperate with police, because when you stand back and don't do anything, all you do is allow a murderer to go out there and do it again."

Cummings alluded to the protests against police brutality that followed Gray's death.

"I hear over and over and over again, 'Black Lives Matter,'" he said. "And they do matter. But black lives also have to matter to black people."

State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby pointed to a handful of recent high-profile convictions as evidence that her office is "no longer going to tolerate" killings.

She spoke about the killing of 1-year-old Carter Scott, which resulted in the conviction of one man and a hung jury for four co-defendants.

Davis was asked by a reporter how officials can assure residents that they are on top of the crime problem, given what has happened during the spike.

"We refuse to tread water," he said. "We're going to lead the pack. The nation is undergoing a surge in homicides, and it's our expectation that before very long, people will look to Baltimore to see how we fought out of it."

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