BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Riots, stolen pharmacy drugs and a surge in violence. The city’s top cop tells WJZ there may be a link between the three.
Derek Valcourt speaks with the head of the police union for the first time about the recent jump in crime.
On Monday, WJZ showed you video of local pharmacies being looted during the riots. Now police tell us those stolen drugs are part of the problem.
“I am more than outraged,” said Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts.
The commissioner is speaking out about the recent spike in violent crime and confirming what WJZ reported Monday — that the looting of more than a dozen pharmacies during the April 27 riots might have played a significant role in making May Baltimore’s deadliest month since 1972.
“There’s a lot of drugs that are out on the streets at this point in time. I think that’s part of it. I think gang rivalry is flaring back up,” Commissioner Batts said. “But we’ve got to get a handle on it, so we’re pushing hard.”
“I think the criminals are taking advantage of this crisis. I think that’s the biggest reason for the surge,” said Police Union President Gene Ryan.
In an exclusive interview, Ryan tells WJZ charges against the six officers involved in the Freddie Gray case have other officers fearing prosecution and say it’s impacting their jobs.
He gives an example of one Southern District officer recently attacked by three men.
“Now the lieutenant asked him, ‘Could you have drawn your gun to protect yourself?’ And he says, ‘Yes.’ And the lieutenant says, ‘Well, why didn’t you?’ He says, ‘I’m afraid.’ He’s afraid of what would happen to him if he did have to shoot somebody,” said Ryan.
Some neighborhood leaders echo those concerns, complaining to WJZ that police have done less enforcement in parts of West Baltimore since the riots.
Valcourt: “Are officers holding back?”
Ryan: “No. I don’t think they’re holding back. I think they’re hesitant. And it goes back to what I said before and I’ve been saying ever since December — that they are afraid to go to jail for doing their job. So they are hesitant. They are reluctant to take action. But they’re not holding back. This isn’t a work slowdown.”
For now, the police commissioner has a message for those responsible for the city’s recent violence:
“We’re coming to get you,” he said.
Police officials tell WJZ they are actively investigating all of the prescription drug thefts from local pharmacies and say so far detectives have made eight arrests and have eight other open warrants for those crimes.
Police say they have increased foot patrols and changed leadership in the Western District as they try to improve community relations and fight crime.