Crime is rising in Baltimore, and some law enforcement experts suspect an anti-cop climate stemming from the racially charged case of Freddie Gray is at least partly responsible.
Homicides in 2015 so far stand at 100, up from 71 for the same period last year, and on pace to be the Charm City’s deadliest year since 2007. Nonfatal shootings are up 70 percent this year, following a particularly violent week that saw 19 people shot on Tuesday and Wednesday alone.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Thursday. “It is disheartening, but I am still resolved to continue to reduce violent crime in our city.”
The current year was already trending the wrong way before the April 12 incident in which Gray suffered fatal injuries wile in police custody. Six Baltimore police officers were indicted Thursday in the case, which sparked protests that degenerated into rioting and looting last month.
Critics have suggested that the city’s police force, bitter at what they see as a lack of support from Rawlings-Blake and other city leaders, may be implementing a slowdown. Other say the cops can’t be blamed if they are hesitant to police aggressively in the face of a hostile community.
“Regarding the crime increase in the western district, this is certainly a contentious time in our city and we believe there is a criminal element taking advantage of the situation, Gene Ryan, President of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 in Baltimore said in a statement to FoxNews.com. “Police are not responsible for the systemic issues of poverty that have plagued our communities. There has been a lot of finger pointing and the weight is heavy on our officers’ shoulders.”
Rawlings-Blake said Baltimore has faced crime spikes in the past and managed to reverse them. She said she was “confident” that the police department would do so again.
Ryan said the police need support from City all if they are to get a handle on the rising violence.
“They cannot do it alone – they need support from the mayor, the City Council, church and civic leaders and the community to help move our city forward,” he said.
Police morale across the nation has reeled in the wake of several racially-charged incidents, including the shooting of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, last August in Ferguson, Mo., followed by a grand jury’s decision not to indict an NYPD cop in the death of Eric Garner and the death of Gray while in the custody of Baltimore police.
A Justice Department investigation of the Brown shooting found no wrongdoing on the part of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, but the finding did little to silence the “Hands up, Don’t shoot” mantra adopted by protesters who believe police target minorities.
Making the current climate even more harrowing for officers are recent statistics from the FBI that show that the number of cops killed in the line of duty doubled in 2014 from the year before.
While crime is rising in Baltimore, the numbers of arrests have been dropping with numbers dipping 22 percent in the first three months of 2015 and even more sharply after Gray’s death on April 19 touched off rioting.
“The police down there [Baltimore] are definitely cautious,” NYPD Sgt. Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association in New York, told FoxNews.com. “I’m sure many of them think, ‘If I go and get involved what is the consequence?’”
Mullins said politicians who second-guess police are to blame, not cops. During initial rioting following Gray’s death, police officials told Fox News Rawlings-Blake had ordered them not to make arrests, even as they were pelted with rocks by angry crowds.
“There’s pure lack of political accountability,” Mullins said. “All we have seen lately are Baltimore police officers running from people who attack them and not getting arrested for it.”
If police are under orders, or even simply more hesitant than usual to enforce law and order, criminals pick up on it, Mullins said.
“There’s no doubt that the criminal element was emboldened after the riots,” he said. “When you don’t make arrests, you gave people the go-ahead to do whatever they wanted to do.