Baltimore Police Chief Links Recent Crime Wave to Staff Shortages, Gang Violence

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison blamed a rise in violent crime and homicides in the most populous city in Maryland on “a number of issues,” including a shortage in staff.

Harrison noted during an interview with CNN on Tuesday that just like New York and all the other big cities across the nation, Baltimore is seeing a spike in violence, with 18 homicides recorded in just the past ten days alone.

“It’s a number of issues, it’s grouping gang violence, it’s retaliation from previous bad acts,” the commissioner explained.

“But we are seeing an increase in close acquaintance shootings and domestic violence shootings where people just have absolutely poor or no conflict resolution skills and are using guns to solve their conflicts.”

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Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, center, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, second from right, confer at the scene of a deadly shooting in Baltimore, Maryland on June 16, 2021. (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Harrison also noted that he hopes the police force in the city, which is seeing roughly 230 officers short of its current budget, will see more “boots on the ground” to fight the crime spike and homicides.

“We are hiring, we are recruiting,” Harrison said. “We are using every resource available, we’re using all the time to force up and plus up the number, so we can have more officers.”

While stressing the departments’ dire need for more officers, the chief also said additional personnel is not just good for improving law enforcement in the city, but also needed to “build those relationships” within the community, noting that the department needs the community’s help in solving these murders so these bad actors can be held accountable for “terrorizing our community.”

The comments came as President Joe Biden plans to lay out new steps to stem a rising national tide of violent crime, with a particular focus on shootings, as administration officials brace for what they fear could be an especially turbulent summer.

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President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Homeland Security Adviser and Deputy National Security Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on June 22, 2021. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

In a speech on Wednesday, Biden is to unveil a series of executive orders aimed at reducing violence, and he will renew his calls for Congress to pass gun legislation, aides said. Ahead of the speech, the Justice Department announced new strike forces aimed at tackling gun trafficking in five cities.

“Yes, there need to be reforms of police systems across the country. The president is a firm believer in that,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

“But there are also steps he can take as president of the United States to help address and hopefully reduce that crime. A big part of that, in his view, is putting in place gun safety measures … using the bully pulpit but also using levers at his disposal as president.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.