Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts is asking for federal help to fight an uptick in crime in his city — an increase he largely attributes to looted drugs that have made their way to the streets of Baltimore.
At least 27 pharmacies and drug clinics were looted during riots after the April death of Freddie Gray, much more than previously reported, and as much as 175,000 units of dosage narcotics are now on the street, he said.
That’s “enough narcotics on the streets of Baltimore to keep it intoxicated for a year,” he said. “That amount of drugs has thrown off the balance on the streets of Baltimore.”
His comments come as turmoil continues to grip the city less than two months after Gray died from a spinal injury while in police custody. Six Baltimore police officers have been charged in Gray’s death.
There were 42 homicides in the city in May, the deadliest month since 1972.
Authorities expect the number of doses on the streets will be higher, because not all pharmacies have accounted for the missing narcotics, according to a law enforcement official. Some of the drugs looted include fentanyl, oxycodone, amphetamines, Adderall, hydrocodone, morphine and tramadol.
“Criminals are selling those stolen drugs,” Batts said. “There are turf wars happening which are leading to violence and shootings in our city.”
Councilman: It’s more complicated than drugs
City Council member Carl Stokes said Thursday he does not entirely agree that the crime in Baltimore can be blamed on the proliferation of drug dealing.
“It is not simply a matter of more prescription drugs on the streets,” he said. “Baltimore has always had a very high homicide rate for many years.”
The law enforcement official agreed, telling CNN that while some of the violence is a byproduct of the looting, it is by no means all-inclusive.
Two members of the Bloods gang in Baltimore told CNN they are being unfairly blamed by police for the violence.
“What they’re trying to do is take the fire and heat off of them,” said one gang member, who goes by Bones.
Stokes said the problem is more complex.
“There’s more opportunity for the criminals in this city to do what they’re doing because leadership is failing and, frankly, because the Fraternal Order of Police — if they didn’t order it they have given some, again, not an order, but to say to their rank and file you don’t have to work as hard as you should be working, you don’t have to live up to your oath to serve and protect. … I think we have a horrible situation going on in this town,” Stokes said.
He added that neighborhoods that are wracked with crime are now facing an even tougher situation.
“I know that the police officers have lost confidence and respect for their commander,” Stokes said, adding that he believes the majority of Baltimore residents have respect for and confidence in the police.
Stokes said he’s troubled by stories he’s heard from residents who he said have told him in the past few days that police in their neighborhoods are doing less.
“Unfortunately and crazily, police officers are actually telling average citizens, ‘We’re not doing all of the extra things that we used to do, we’re not doing it and we’re not doing it because we’re upset with our leadership.'”
Stokes offered to bring those residents who’ve told him this on CNN’s air.
“What I would welcome is that we had a leader, a commander, who knew what the hell was going on with his troops,” said Stokes. “Because he has lost the confidence and respect of the police officers on the streets. He has lost the streets entirely in terms of the criminals out there.”
The Baltimore Police Department did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment on Stokes’ remarks on Thursday, but Batts addressed similar reports last month that officers have coordinated a work slowdown, saying they aren’t holding back in protest and that the numbers spiked due to gang violence.
“Multiple people” have been “shot in groupings … leading us to believe there is a gang nexus to the shootings that have taken place.”
Batts did acknowledge in May that he has heard from officers who worry they could face legal jeopardy for pursuing suspects in the wake of Gray’s death.
“I hope they realize that what their actions are and the fact that the community needs them,” Batts told CNN’s “AC360.” “When I’m going through the roll calls, what I share with them, Anderson, is the fact that remember why you came on this job and why you put that gun belt on, why you put that badge on, and why you wear that uniform every single day, for the grandmothers and the babies and the little ones.”
Asked directly if Stokes wants Batts, who became commissioner in 2012, to resign, the councilman replied that he is “two steps away” from that, but he doesn’t want to create more chaos in a city that’s struggling to recover and unify.
Drugs on the streets
A high-ranking Baltimore-based Drug Enforcement Administration agent also said recently that he believes drugs are fueling Baltimore’s pressing crime problem.
Gary Tuggle, the assistant special agent in charge of the DEA’s Baltimore district, blamed the violence on gangs and drug dealers not affiliated with the gangs selling drugs.
“The uptick we are seeing, quite honestly, is the fact that they have space now and they are out and they’ve got the ability to deal drugs, and some feel they can deal with impunity,” Tuggle told CNN affiliate WBAL May 28.
Tuggle said the looters specifically went after controlled narcotics like Vicodin, oxycodone and Percocet that drug stores keep on hand to serve a consumer market.
The DEA said one 30-milligram tablet of OxyContin or oxycodone sells for $30 on the street.
“Conversely, one bag of heroin will only cost you between $10 and $15, so you see the economic value for these gangs in targeting these pharmacies,” Tuggle told WBAL.
The DEA is working to reconcile what could be on the street to what each store had in stock.
He said investigators know that “there were massive amounts” taken.
Catherine Pugh, a Maryland state senator, said on CNN that drugs have always been a problem in Baltimore. More drugs logically means the problems will get worse, she said.
She was asked for her thoughts on the allegation that police aren’t proactively doing their jobs.
She responded, “We need them to do their job, so whatever that takes to get them moving” including bringing in the U.S. Department of Justice to help them learn how to better police “that’s what needs to take place.”
Kiarra Boulware, an ex-addict who is working on her sobriety and going to school, said on Thursday that she doubted the crime in Baltimore is being chiefly driven by stolen prescription medicine.
She grew up in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood. She said she feels like police have been slower in response times. She recalled seeing a man get shot and waiting six minutes for an ambulance; that feels too long to her, she said.
“As a result of the riots we are in an environment now where we have to fend for ourselves,” she said.
She doesn’t have any solutions. But she said it might help for the city to put greater emphasis on community policing so officers and Baltimore’s residents can learn to start to trust each other.