Standing in the Eastern District roll call room, Maj. Guy Thacker told his assembled shift supervisors, detectives and intelligence officers that he was pleased with their recent stats.

“You guys are fucking destroying it,” said Thacker, wearing an Army-green Baltimore Police SWAT unit T-shirt.

Throughout the Baltimore Police Department’s recent history, statistics — arrests, gun seizures, stop-and-frisks — have long been a key tool for evaluating and rewarding officers. But Thacker was not referring to any of those things.

He was talking about his push starting two months earlier to flood the city’s other agencies with 311 requests. His officers had since pumped 2,500 requests into the non-emergency system, which connects users with an array of city services like trash collection and fixing broken street lights. Most other police districts had registered a couple hundred requests.

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“Housing tells me, ‘Yeah, we see the rapid increase in Eastern. Keep submitting.’ On the other hand, DPW is begging for mercy. They can’t keep up,” Thacker said. “DOT? Sgt. Crane put in 17 abandoned cars — within 48 hours they were towed away.”

Eastern District Maj. Guy Thacker addresses supervisors at a weekly intelligence meeting in the roll call room. After a “brutal” week of violence, Thacker laid out where officers should be patrolling in hopes of quelling further shootings.
Eastern District Maj. Guy Thacker addresses supervisors at a weekly intelligence meeting in the roll call room. After a “brutal” week of violence, Thacker laid out where officers should be patrolling in hopes of quelling further shootings. (Justin Fenton/The Baltimore Banner)

The district had been battered by violent crime over the previous week. In addition to a shooting on North Rose Street that claimed the life of 25-year-old Chone Cummings, a pregnant woman and her fiancé were killed, and another couple were shot. While detectives investigated those cases, Thacker remained focused on making sure his officers were in known problem spots. He reminded officers that year to date, the district’s overall crime numbers were trending relatively well.

Thacker is largely alone among district commanders in pushing the 311 efforts, but it reflects a broader shift by police and city officials toward taking a more holistic approach to addressing public safety. But city leaders are facing many of the same problems, bedeviled by competing priorities and not enough resources to fully execute either.

Long gone are the days of mass arrests — the department arrested 87% fewer people in 2020 than it did at its peak in 2005, while making fewer than three arrests for drugs per day in a city where fatal opioid overdoses outnumber homicides by nearly 3-to-1.

The department in many ways now emphasizes process over results, keeping close tabs on things like whether officers are courteous and explain their presence to people they encounter, or are logging body camera footage properly and documenting tasks.

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It’s part of what Police Commissioner Michael Harrison describes as a transition from a “warrior” mentality, which seeks to control behavior and prevent crime, to that of a “guardian” approach, in which police seek to win back residents’ trust and avoid minor confrontations that could escalate into harm. The approach was spurred by the federal consent decree enacted in 2017, following a civil rights investigation that found that officers routinely violated people’s rights, performed lackluster investigations and failed to rein in misconduct and corruption.

Baked into the approach is the acknowledgement that police can’t stop every shooting, and other city agencies must step in. To that end, Mayor Brandon Scott has emphasized an approach that siphons non-emergency calls away from police and brings more than police resources to bear to address safety.

These changes are happening as the murder rate continues to be at a record high, on track to top 300 killings for the eighth straight year. While violence has touched areas like the Inner Harbor, where a teen was recently fatally shot, the problems remain worst in historically disinvested neighborhoods and are not spread evenly throughout the city.

Two Eastern District patrol officers post up at Greenmount Avenue and Mura Street as an array of city officials assemble to thwart a youth party that has rankled residents of Mura Street.
Two Eastern District patrol officers observe at Greenmount Avenue and Mura Street as an array of city officials assemble to thwart a youth party that has rankled residents of Mura Street. (Justin Fenton/The Baltimore Banner)

Residents in those areas say they don’t want police to return to aggressive tactics that led to abuses, but most are also calling on the department to do more and increase their visibility — this as the consent decree monitoring team says the department is short hundreds of officers for the volume of 911 calls police field.

Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton says every time she speaks with a constituent, they ask: “Where are our police officers?” “They’re begging for it,” she said.

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“This is why you hired me,” Harrison, who took over in 2019, told City Council members at a recent budget hearing. “I have to manage the difficult decisions of making sure we deal with crime — reduce it, deter it, hold people accountable when we apprehend them — but also do it in a constitutional way so that we bring this department into compliance with a consent decree it put itself in.”

According to a new Baltimore Banner survey conducted by the Goucher College Poll, 73% of residents say they support money being allocated from the police budget to various social, mental health and drug treatment programs. But residents by a similar margin — 72% — say they want an increase in police presence and patrols, which can only be done by increasing the budget. Only 16% want police funding decreased.

The shift in policing approach also comes as 57% of residents surveyed say they disapprove of the job police are doing, even as 65% said they feel safe in their own neighborhood.

The Banner spoke with police officers of varying ranks and levels of experience, residents, elected officials and members of the consent decree monitoring team. It reviewed arrest reports, charging documents and 911 call data, and went behind the scenes in the Eastern District and commanders’ meetings, as well as efforts by the new Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, a key part of the mayor’s holistic approach to public safety.

“The biggest thing I’m seeing is the officers are not expected to come out and engage criminals,” said one police supervisor, who like many officers requested anonymity because he was not authorized to comment. “They’re just not doing it. The direction that they’re given is do business checks, do car stops. They’re not really given anything else.”

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Many residents complain that officers aren’t doing enough, or engage the wrong people. Mark Stevenson, a 55-year-old military veteran, said his sons get approached outside his East Baltimore home by officers for no reason. He said he was recently pulled over while driving through Northeast Baltimore and told he was driving suspiciously as he left a rim store.

“They pull us over, but they don’t pull over these people coming up this one-way street, the drug dealers up there doing everything,” Stevenson said. “A Black man’s biggest fear is to see a police in the rearview mirror. It’s dudes out here I know that carry guns every day. I’m not scared of them. I’m scared of the police.”

East Baltimore resident Jiri Cruz calls her neighborhood a “war zone.” (Shan Wallace)

Jiri Cruz, who moved to East Baltimore in 2020, describes her neighborhood as a “war zone.” She recalls neighbors getting mugged and hearing gunshots while doing community cleanups.

“I think the police are doing the best they can,” Cruz said. “More community policing, more police officers, and convicting criminals will make things safer in Baltimore City.”

New metrics to judge officer performance

In a city that once saw police put handcuffs on residents 100,000 times in a single year, police in 2021 made just 14,000 arrests. It was a trend long before State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby told police two years ago that she would no longer prosecute low-level crimes such as drug possession, urinating in public and loitering. The drug war in Baltimore also is arguably over: Arrests for possession and distribution have fallen from 29,000 in 2006 to about 1,040 in 2020, a drop of 96%.

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The department now uses three main metrics to judge officer performance: foot patrols, business checks and “directed patrols,” an undefined category that is essentially car patrols in a specific area. Every department meeting is spent looking at color-coded line and bar graphs displaying which districts and shifts are spending the most time on those areas. There are no quotas, though abnormally low totals will prompt an inquiry, such as when a lieutenant colonel notices that the morning shift officers in the Eastern District collectively made just 11 traffic stops in a 90-day period.

Harrison says officers can’t control crime — sometimes, he notes, crime happens right in front of them.

“What we have control over is the performance metrics of our officers — the foot patrols, the business checks, the directed patrols, the field interviews, the community engagement,” Harrison said.

But he said that should not be seen as complacency: “Our sense of urgency is set to maximum, and it stays there, and it never, ever turns off.”

About 90 seconds before a gunman with a fully automatic weapon unloaded 60 rounds in broad daylight, killing one man and wounding three others, a plainclothes officer from the Eastern District had passed through the 700 block of North Rose St.

Addressing his Eastern District officers days later, Thacker said he wanted to “plant a flag” at East Monument Street and North Rose Street, the site of the mass shooting, by fixing an officer there around the clock. He also knew that by doing so, problems could be pushed to another area.

Eastern District Maj. Guy Thacker sits in his vehicle keeping an eye on the corner of North Potomac and East Preston streets, where he says there is concern about the potential for violence. Police no longer "clear corners," but do approach or keep an eye on people clustering in areas of concern. Residents say it's harassment.
Eastern District Maj. Guy Thacker sits in his vehicle keeping an eye on the corner of North Potomac and East Preston streets, where he says there is concern about the potential for violence. Police no longer “clear corners,” but do approach or keep an eye on people clustering in areas of concern. Residents say it's harassment. (Justin Fenton/The Baltimore Banner)

“[Officers] need to be getting out and walking up to Port Street,” Thacker told officers. “If you own Monument, they’ll move to Madison, or down into the Southeast [district].”

Thacker is an old-school cop who has embraced the new tenets of the department. He spent most of his career on the SWAT team, and his age (51) and experience on the force (30 years) are an increasing rarity. Thacker grew up in Glen Burnie and graduated from what was then Towson State University with a degree in political science and minor in urban planning. He nearly pursued a career in teaching before getting hired as a police officer.

While the murder rate is at an all-time high, the overall violent crime rate, accounting for population, is about half of what it was at its peak in 1993, when Thacker joined the department. Thacker has fewer personnel to manage than his predecessors. On any given shift, he has about 14 patrol officers plus a few supervisors to keep watch over posts — down from about 20 a decade ago. His District Action Team complement — the current name for the department’s plainclothes units, who have freedom to roam the district — has been decimated, raided by a previous commander who brought them over to his new assignment.

The department is budgeted for 2,600 officers — the same per capita as it had 30 years ago — and a study by the Vera Institute found Baltimore spends more money per resident on policing than any city in America. With vacancies, the department has about 2,200 working officers. Union officials say the department needs even more than the full budgeted strength.

“We’re down 40% from where we [once] were in patrol,” said Sgt. Mike Mancuso, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, the union that represents rank-and-file officers. “Robbery detectives are averaging 700, 800 cases a year, per detective. How do you do that? You’re at the point where you’re triaging cases, and that’s certainly not best practices.”

How can the city that spends so much per capita on police be understaffed? Ken Thompson, who leads the consent decree monitoring team, says the department needs to fill at least 300 vacancies to cover 911 calls while also allowing officers time to interact with the community, a key part of achieving compliance with the consent decree.

“The [recommended staffing] numbers are based on calls for service,” Thompson said. “The numbers are just not there to satisfy the plan.”

Aside from vacancies, part of the reason for staffing shortages in areas like patrol may be that the department has made significant staffing increases in internal affairs investigators and compliance with the consent decree, as well as a long-standing problem of sworn officers performing duties performed by civilians in other cities. Through May, the department has lost 110 officers and hired 42.

To augment his forces in the Eastern District, Thacker has been paying overtime to members of the SWAT team and citywide Mobile Metro Unit, which mostly does car stops. Members of the latter fatally shot 18-year-old Donnell Rochester during a traffic stop — the only shooting by Baltimore Police officers this year.

Because of a new scheduling plan pushed by the police union, veterans get to pick which shift they want to work. Most opt for “day work.” That means 11 out of 14 officers on Thacker’s night shift have less than three years with the department. They are also the most productive, but have a lot to learn.

“The make or break for this department are the the three-stripers — the sergeants,” Thacker says. “They need a leader.”

One young officer, who joined three years ago wanting to help fix the agency, said the department’s benchmarks don’t ask much of them, while older officers try to talk younger peers out of showing initiative.

“They say, ‘You’re doing too much. You’re going to get into something, and it’ll be this whole thing. Don’t do anything,’ ” he said.

Marcus Henry left the BPD this month after 17 years, saying manpower shortages create an officer safety issue, which creates a public safety issue. Here, he displays a disciplinary form for using unprofessional language towards an armed person. The complaint was generated internally from a review of body camera footage.
Marcus Henry left the BPD this month after 17 years, saying manpower shortages create an officer safety issue, which creates a public safety issue. Here, he displays a disciplinary form for using unprofessional language towards an armed person. The complaint was generated internally from a review of body camera footage. (Handout)

Marcus Henry left the department on June 3 after 17 years, taking a sizable pay cut to work in another jurisdiction. He explained how the manpower issues translate into an officer safety issue, which becomes a public safety issue. Working the Southwestern District midnight shift in Walbrook Junction, he said, some nights he’d be the only officer in his sector. He worried about not having backup.

“There were times I could see something, but in order to avoid a use of force, I did not react to it,” Henry said. “People don’t just give up. They run. You have to work out their safety, like if they run into traffic and get hit by a car. All that stuff plays in the back of your mind.”

He recalled confronting someone with a gun in February, and believes he might have had to use deadly force but was able to de-escalate the situation. Afterward, he was disciplined with “verbal counseling” for cursing at the man when he asked him to “put your fucking hands up.”

The arrestee didn’t complain about the foul language — it was flagged by someone from the compliance unit reviewing body camera footage.

Deploying city resources to shooting scenes

If Thacker is short-handed, Rick Leandry is a force of one.

The 44-year-old has worked for the mayor’s office in various roles involving youth and community outreach. A native of Connecticut, he moved to Maryland’s Upper Eastern Shore at age 12 and came to the city to attend Morgan State University, where he earned a degree in marketing. He started out promoting parties and events, and got involved in acting and writing before becoming a public servant. Among his efforts have been working with squeegee kids.

Days after the Rose Street shooting, he gathered with community leader Terry “Uncle T” Williams and members of Safe Streets in the Monument Street office of the anti-violence program. Their goal: figure out how to stabilize the struggling neighborhood through resources.

From left to right, Rick Leandry, of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Engagement and Safety, sits with Terry "Uncle T" Williams and members of Safe Streets in their Monument Street office, discussing ways they can bring services to the area around North Rose Street following a quadruple shooting.
From left to right, Rick Leandry, of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Engagement and Safety, sits with Terry “Uncle T” Williams and members of Safe Streets in their Monument Street office, discussing ways they can bring services to the area around North Rose Street following a quadruple shooting. (Justin Fenton/The Baltimore Banner)

“We have multiple fires and we’re trying to run around with buckets,” Leandry told the others. “What we do in this moment is going to be the blueprint. ... Nobody has the answer, clearly, but we’re trying things.”

Mayor Scott’s comprehensive violence plan released last summer called for his Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, known as MONSE, to implement community “stabilization plans” following traumatic incidents. Nearly a year later, it hasn’t happened yet.

“We know that in order to truly end gun violence in our community, we’ve got to not only approach it through enforcement but making sure we’re creating and holding spaces for folks who are traumatized and being traumatized,” MONSE’s director, Shantay Jackson, said in an interview.

MONSE has a broad charge: in addition to re-entry and youth programs, it oversees the Safe Streets anti-violence programs, which the mayor wants to grow significantly. It is also tasked with leading the Group Violence Reduction Strategy, a program that identifies people involved in violence and attempts to offer them services — or send them to prison. Over the past two decades, Baltimore has twice unsuccessfully tried to implement the model.

Safe Streets has been embattled in recent years, with three violence outreach workers getting killed and questions raised over how much oversight the city exercises. The Group Violence Reduction Strategy, meanwhile, is off to a slow start, with only a pilot program launched in the Police Department’s Western District. While officials are encouraged by a 23% decline in gun violence in the district, council members expressed concern at MONSE’s budget hearing that the office was taking too long to fully implement the program.

Community leader Terry “Uncle T” Williams stops at a shooting victim memorial while doing outreach with Safe Streets on Monument Street. (Shan Wallace)

While city leaders talk about a more comprehensive approach to violence, critics note that the spending priorities still heavily favor police — at the expense of those other areas.

Rob Ferrell, an organizer for the local activist group Organizing Black, pointed out that this year’s proposed budget calls for $1.7 million to youth and trauma services, $5.4 million for health services for seniors, $6.7 for substance use disorder and mental health, $14 million for vacant and abandoned property cleaning and boarding, and $35 million for street management. MONSE receives $20.6 million.

“That’s six of the most pressing issues in this city and we are only spending $84 million on them,” Ferrell, who later led a protest outside City Hall on Taxpayer’s Night, wrote on Twitter.

MONSE’s stabilization concept focuses on analyzing 211, 311 and 911 — the first two being non-emergency requests for social services and city services, respectively — and developing a plan to tackle quality-of-life problems for a six-block radius around such a shooting scene. That’s done in tandem with a community leader to help make sure the city’s efforts are what the neighborhood truly wants.

The 700 block of North Rose Street, the site of the recent mass shooting, is almost entirely abandoned; none of its homes are owner-occupied, and most are owned by people or LLCs located far from the city. The shooting also came hours after a 51-year-old man the next block over fatally shot himself on the front steps of a home, after learning he had cancer.

At the time of the planning meeting at the Safe Streets office, the shooter was still at large and tensions high. Safe Streets worker Kennard Miles told the others around the table that he believed the block was an unsafe place to be.

“I don’t want nobody up in that block. Not right now,” Miles said.

Leandry, Uncle T and the Safe Streets workers instead set up a block away, at the corner of Milton and Monument. A table offered stacks of flyers for job opportunities — landscaping, a hotel, cybersecurity training, commercial truck driver training programs. The Safe Streets members then walked around the block south of the shooting scene, chanting through megaphones, “What do we want? Safe Streets. When do we want it? Now.” People sitting outside watched as they walked by.

Erricka Bridgeford, of the CeaseFire effort, arrived and was warned about safety on Rose Street. “I understand. But I’m not concerned,” she said.

A shot-up vehicle parked in the 700 block of North Rose Street is flagged to be towed. City officials sought to flood the area with 311 requests for quality of life issues such as abandoned vehicles.
A shot-up vehicle parked in the 700 block of North Rose Street is flagged to be towed. City officials sought to flood the area with 311 requests for quality-of-life issues such as abandoned vehicles. (Justin Fenton/The Baltimore Banner)

She conducted a “sacred space” ritual — burning sage and blessing the spot where Chone Cummings took his last breaths. A friend of Cummings who had been holding vigil on a stool at the spot since the killing got up and walked away.

After about an hour, the effort broke up. Leandry had to be in Northwest Baltimore. While implementing the plan for Rose Street, he was also being asked to work on a second one concurrently for the Howard Park neighborhood, after a similar mass shooting that injured five people, also on May 10.

It was unclear how many residents were reached through the night’s efforts, but the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement pledged to continue for the next 45 days.

“This is the first round,” Leandry said. “We dispatched our activists, healers, peacekeepers. They’re working their lanes.”

But as violence interrupter Alex Long explained later, Safe Streets has a difficult time getting a handle on who was behind the shooting and, thus, working out a truce. People aren’t necessarily ready to do that anyway. “The block themselves wasn’t really trying to hear, ‘Let’s go to peace,’ ” Long said.

But Long said Safe Streets is better positioned than police to keep the peace. “The majority of the people, honestly, have become vigilantes, because nothing, and I mean nothing, really takes care of itself when its dependent on traditional law and order,” he said. “It’s almost like we became Gotham City.”

Safe Streets worker doing outreach on Monument Street. (Shan Wallace)

Plainclothes units at reduced capacity

In previous years, the Police Department might have flooded the area with plainclothes units, known as “knockers” and “jumpout boys,” in an attempt to suffocate crime. The plainclothes operations units — long the department’s key tool in proactive policing, and long the source of citizen complaints and corruption — continue to operate, albeit in a much-reduced capacity.

When the Violent Crimes Impact Section was created in 2007, more than 200 detectives were pulled into it and directed to flood historically high-crime zones. Now, the department deploys District Action Teams (DAT) under the direction of patrol commanders.

Each patrol district is supposed to have two teams consisting of a sergeant and six officers. But in practice, only four of the nine districts have two teams, and few of the teams have their full complement of officers. “There’s no way to keep up with the violence in the city spread that thin,” said one commander.

The officers working in those units are still doing much of the same work as their predecessors by engaging in “proactive” policing — looking for people with guns, getting into foot chases, making car stops in the hopes of finding something more. They also still get the most complaints, and Mancuso, the union president, said he gets calls from detectives expressing concern.

What does he tell them?

“Get out of DAT,” Mancuso says. “The department is exposing you and wanting you to do these things, but when these things happen to you — and they know people are going to complain, because it’s part of what [they] do now — the department has no mechanism to protect you.”

Harrison has said this type of work is critical but needs to be done correctly. At the June 6 city budget hearing, Councilman Robert Stokes demanded to know why officers weren’t breaking up open-air drug markets, and said officers tell him they are constrained by the federal consent decree.

“That is code for, ‘I can’t be brutal and drag people off and make them do what I want them to do,’ ” Harrison responded. “The law has not changed. The Constitution has not changed. We have trained officers in what they can do, as opposed to always hearing what they can’t do.”

Harrison suggests that instead of stopping and frisking people or arresting them for minor offenses, “you can [approach and] have a conversation and disrupt that, without making a single arrest. You can still disrupt it.”

One of Baltimore’s historical tensions comes from police trying to break up gatherings in areas known for gun violence. Police see a group of men clustered on a corner or a stoop as potential victims; they think they are dispersing them or moving them inside for their own good.

For people living in these neighborhoods, they’re simply hanging out.

The consent decree made clear that police are not to “clear corners,” a violation of constitutional rights. Corner-clearing still exists, however, in another form. Officers are told to approach such gatherings, and, most times, people not wanting to stand around with an officer end up dispersing on their own.

One afternoon, Thacker pulls up to the corner of Montford and Hoffman streets, where a group of seven men are standing together, drinking juice and soda.

“If they’re clustered up, they make themselves an easy target for a drive-by attack, and that’s what I worry about,” Thacker says. “I used to say, ‘You gotta roll,’ and they roll. Now I say, ‘Thank you for watching the corner; I’m here now.’ It’s community engagement — ways to affect the same problem.”

This is the kind of work that police say is how they tamp down violence, but many in the community believe they too often target the wrong people. Daniel Webster, who researches gun violence at the Johns Hopkins University, said he was surprised to see two-thirds of respondents to a recent study said they believed police target the wrong people.

Dayvon Love, of Leaders for a Beautiful Struggle, says even those toting guns shouldn’t be viewed the same.

“Society would have you believe that all of them [people who carry guns illegally] are folks that are engaged in all the violence in our community,” Love said at a forum at the University of Baltimore. “One of the primary things important to know is that lots of folks carry firearms for protection, because they know their community is dangerous.

“If we’re serious about addressing the issue of public safety, and serious about making sure we don’t expand the damage the criminal justice system has done,” Love continued, “then we actually have to look at law enforcement and its ineffectiveness at actually being able to do the one job that, no matter where you are on the political spectrum, we want them to do: those that are engaged in the kind of reckless violence that harms our communities, to get them off the street.”

With much fewer human interactions, the department increasingly relies on technology. From district-based “community intelligence centers,” officers monitor the network of 800 CCTV cameras as well as license plate readers and gunshot detection software. The agency also makes an astounding number of cases off of Instagram videos — people posting a picture of a gun or going live waving one, which is then communicated to an officer in the field.

Back in the Eastern District, Thacker’s phone buzzed with a synopsis of a gun arrest made by the Mobile Metro Unit, showing a traffic stop for a broken brake light that resulted in the recovery of a gun. Thacker noted the man is a suspected resident of the Down Da Hill area of East Baltimore, who was pulled over in rival Up Da Hill territory. Working with the Southeastern District, officers were on alert for retaliatory violence.

“That’s a really good arrest,” Thacker said. “We’ll start listening to his jail calls to see what is going on.”

No such luck: The man was given a $75,000 bond by a court commissioner, which he posted the next day, and was released.

But another break came when a man called the police to report someone firing a gun into the air on his block. The shooting was captured on a home surveillance camera, showing the shooter running into a home. Police got a warrant for the home, collected the gun, and determined it was likely used in a shooting five days earlier. Detectives said they would pull cell site information from a cellphone also seized. Thacker chuckled at the officers’ good luck.

‘Someone got killed last night. Go find the killer’

Amid the fallout from the Rose Street shooting, Thacker, of the Eastern District, and Leandry, of MONSE, had another problem to tackle: a youth party in Johnston Square.

A month earlier, officials say a similar party prompted a flood of complaints from residents about loud music, trash and unruly behavior. They wanted to try to stop this one before it began.

Leandry pulled out all the stops trying to talk the teenage promoter out of holding the party. Leandry introduced him to adults in the promoting scene. He took him to an Orioles game. And, he brought the teen to a meeting with the mayor, who personally lobbied the teen to instead help promote a city-organized youth party at the Inner Harbor’s Rash Field.

Leandry said the boy agreed to stop the party, but Thacker heard that another person from the area was looking to take the baton. The city’s legal department drew up a letter warning of consequences if an un-permitted party was held, and Thacker visited the second man and read him the letter, which he made sure to record on his body camera.

With extensive police resources shifted up to help with the Preakness, Thacker arrived at Mura Street on May 21 to see if their efforts to thwart the party were successful. Representatives from housing, transportation and the fire department were also standing by.

Eastern District Maj. Guy Thacker, middle, speaks to a group of young men frustrated that the city blocked their efforts to throw a party on Mura Street. Officials spent a week trying to thwart the party based on concerns from neighbors.
Eastern District Maj. Guy Thacker, middle, speaks to a group of young men frustrated that the city blocked their efforts to throw a party on Mura Street. Officials spent a week trying to thwart the party based on concerns from neighbors. (Justin Fenton/The Baltimore Banner)

Around 4:30 p.m., the teen and a group of friends appeared. Then a DJ arrived. Despite his assurances to even the mayor himself, the teen was pushing forward with the party.

Thacker intercepted the DJ, handing him a letter from the police department lawyer. Across the street, the youths were upset.

“They worried about a fucking party. N——s out here getting killed,” said one member of the group, a 22-year-old who would only identify himself as Q.

“Someone got killed last night. Go find the killer,” the teen promoter said.

But those who live on this block of Mura Street were relieved. Though most of the block is made up of vacant homes, all of the residents are all over the age of 65, and recalled young people jumping on their cars, drinking and smoking marijuana on their steps at the last party.

“It was horrible. Disrespectful,” said Jeanette Edwards, 72.

Officials told the young men they can have a party in the future — if they get a permit. “If something happens and they don’t have a permit, it’s on us. Because we didn’t ‘police,’ ” Capt. Chris Merino explained. But if the promoters get a permit, they are liable for any problems.

The officials maintained their presence. Later, a man started blaring “Fuck the Police” out of speakers. Another drove by and spat in the direction of officers.

For the rest of the evening, police casually monitored the group as they congregated at Johnston Square Park. Later, another group held a gathering in the 2400 block of Greenmount Avenue and a fight among girls that broke out briefly became a melee. Around 11:25 p.m., camera operators spotted two men filming a video waving guns as girls danced around them. Police arrested two men, ages 18 and 19, with loaded handguns.

An hour after that, a triple shooting came out in the district, just south of Clifton Park.

Comstat.  Commanders gather every Thursday for a meeting called Comstat, where they go over data and trends. The meeting in the past was described as a brow-beating session heavy on intelligence - now, the department emphasizes process and procedure.
Commanders gather every Thursday for a meeting called Comstat, where they go over data and trends. The meeting in the past was described as a brow-beating session heavy on intelligence — now, the department emphasizes process and procedure. (Courtesy of Baltimore Police)

Constant pressure to do more

The next week, it’s Thacker’s turn to present before other commanders at the weekly meetings known as Comstat. Previous versions of the meeting were infamous for being dressing-down sessions — where commanders were grilled about how they allowed crime to happen and what they were doing about it. A poor performance could cause a district commander to be ousted. Subsequent iterations were kinder, but still heavily reliant on intelligence.

Officials attending Comstat in 2022 walk past signs urging them to speak up about misconduct. “Silence isn’t loyalty,” reads one. Another says protecting the thin blue line includes stopping an officer from engaging in misconduct.

The first portion of the meeting was spent discussing a “Procedural Justice Scorecard,” in which the department’s compliance unit conducted spot checks of officers’ body-worn camera footage — looking to see whether an officer explained the reason for a stop, if the stop was no longer than necessary, if the officer was professional and courteous.

The only time the homicide commander was questioned at the meeting was to go over a similar audit of how detectives were conducting investigations. Top commanders expressed concern that detectives are not meeting certain items on a checklist.

“They’re doing the follow-ups,” homicide commander Nicholas Edwards asserted. “They’re just not documenting it fully.”

“Which has a potential impact to that case. It’s not acceptable,” responded Deputy Commissioner Sheree Briscoe.

Thacker detailed a litany of things he was working on in his district; he was not grilled on the crime.

But later, a group of City Council members called a news conference demanding that the Police Department do more. Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton said her constituents wanted to see more foot patrols and officers riding around in cars. Councilman Yitzy Schleifer said the detective units and crime lab needed to be beefed up. Councilman Robert Stokes said he believed state police needed to start patrolling the city streets.

Others members say such efforts are futile. When two teens were shot at the Inner Harbor on a Saturday evening, Commissioner Harrison noted, 20 officers were in the area at the time.

“I guess there needed to have been 21 officers?” City Councilman Ryan Dorsey sarcastically noted on Twitter.

Asked what he would do in the short term, Dorsey said there is no short-term solution — “uncomfortable as it may be, I believe it’s a scale of 3-5 years minimum, starting from the point at which we begin a sustained investment that’s radically different from our current priorities.”

The Banner’s Goucher poll showed that 33% of Black respondents want police funding kept about the same, and 41% want it increased. Twenty-two percent of white respondents want police funding kept the same and 49% want more funding.

Ray Kelly, a West Baltimore resident who has played an active role in police reform, is a proponent of defunding the police and investing in other areas that help the community. He said most can’t see past the immediate need to quell violence.

“At best, our department could deter crime, with visibility and just efficient call times and things like that,” Kelly said. “There’s never been a time that police actually prevented crime.”

Kelly wants to end the drug war, but also laments that police are allowing open-air drug markets to operate. Aren’t those complaints at odds? “Not when the city is not doing its part to end drug addiction,” Kelly says. “Unless there’s an actual effort to fight a war on drugs the way it should be fought — not by mass incarceration and things like that, but actual treatment.”

From right to left, Rick Leandry of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Engagement and Safety, neighborhood leader Terry "Uncle T" Williams, and Terrance Brown of the Department of Public Works walk the area of North Milton and Milliman Streets, searching for quality of life issues for city workers to address.
From right to left, Rick Leandry of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Engagement and Safety, neighborhood leader Terry “Uncle T” Williams, and Terrance Brown of the Department of Public Works walk the area of North Milton and Milliman streets, searching for quality-of-life issues for city workers to address. (Justin Fenton/The Baltimore Banner)

‘Business as usual until the next incident’

A month after the Rose Street shooting, city public works crews have cleared out trash and cut overgrown grass in a vacant, city-owned lot. A car that took the bullet hole to the engine is still there, sagging on its blown-out tire.

Within a couple of weeks, young men returned to sitting on stoops of the vacant homes, smoking or picking at food in takeout trays. Asked if anyone has come by offering help or if they’ve seen work taking place, they shake their heads no.

“It’s normally quiet” around here, says a 62-year-old business owner who asked not to be identified. “Every so often, something happens, it puts a negative public spotlight on the area for a little bit, and then it’s business as usual until the next incident.”

A man outside a liquor store says he’s heard that the city has been seeking residents to give solutions. He says a woman has been soliciting ideas, and walks a reporter a few blocks west to a home where two half-conscious men are sitting out back. Linda Young, 53, emerges from the home. She notes she hasn’t been to jail in eight years, and is determined not to go back.

She’s carrying a notebook with her ideas. The first two items are summer jobs and after-school programs, with study hall, math tutoring, adult-to-adolescent mentoring, camping programs and video game tournaments among the ideas.

When Linda Young, 53, heard that city leaders wanted to hear from residents how the city could help the neighborhood after a shooting, she started jotting down ideas to help youth.
When Linda Young, 53, heard that city leaders wanted to hear from residents how the city could help the neighborhood after a shooting, she started jotting down ideas to help youth. (Justin Fenton/The Baltimore Banner)

“If y’all don’t reach these kids, bad things are going to happen,” she says.

Leandry is still trying to connect the area with services. Local schoolchildren at Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School had been rushed inside after the Rose Street shooting, so he arranges for a mental health counseling provider to attend a school event. The provider sets up a table, asking kids how they cope with stress and handing out writing journals and a flyer offering counseling services. A week later, none of the children’s families have reached out.

Later, armed with a code enforcement map, Leandry walks the area with a liaison from public works, looking for dirty alleys and vacant homes that need to be secured. He hopes to accelerate demolishing or rehabbing vacant homes. Leandry says that in Howard Park, the other neighborhood identified for community stabilization, residents were adamant that they wanted more police. Around Rose Street, they want services.

Uncle T, the neighborhood leader anointed to help with the effort, has been doing what he typically does: mentoring youths, running interference when he hears about tensions. When a dispute caused friction in the neighborhood, and two children stopped going to school because they didn’t want to pass through the area, he got involved.

“I took both” to school, he said. “I said, ‘These kids here, they ain’t got nothing to do with y’all mess. Leave them alone.’ ”

It’s the kind of issue unlikely to be reported to or resolved by police, but Uncle T’s deep community connections proved fruitful.

A month later, the area around the 700 block of North Rose Street has been quiet. There had been no repeat violence there, and only one non-fatal shooting a few blocks away.

Has it been the efforts of police? The mayor’s office? Has it been sheer luck? And if something had happened, would it have been the fault of police?

For his part, Thacker thinks he’s had officers in the right places and it’s paid dividends.

“Nothing has transpired down there,” he said. “And I’m intent on keeping it that way.”

justin.fenton@thebaltimorebanner.com

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