BALTIMORE — The chief spokesman of Baltimore's deeply troubled police department resigned Wednesday, saying there's been a long-term "systematic failure" of policing in the city, among other ills.
T.J. Smith, the face of Baltimore policing at news conferences and crime scene investigations, announced his resignation in a social media post. He's been the force's main spokesman since 2015, coming to Baltimore shortly after the suspicious death of a young black man in police custody triggered massive protests and riots.
Smith became a well-known figure from Baltimore newscasts in recent years, urging the public to stop gun violence or call in a tip to assist detectives. In 2017, his pleas to end the bloodshed turned personal when his younger brother became Baltimore's 173rd murder victim in a year that set a new per-capita record for city homicides.
In his lengthy social media post, Smith said the vast majority of Baltimore's law enforcers are honorable and hard-working. But he stressed that "some real hardcore criminals who infiltrated this police department" have left a "lifetime of scars."
"It is difficult to say 'a few bad apples' because if this situation were an apple tree, we would be forced to quarantine it, as it seems a little more widespread," Smith wrote.
He said it was as important to support city police in getting criminals off the streets as it was weeding out those on the inside "who want to tarnish the badge and the image of policing."
Confidence in Baltimore's sworn protectors has badly deteriorated and may have hit rock bottom this year after admissions that corrupt police detectives on an out-of-control unit resold looted narcotics, conducted home invasions and falsified evidence.
With the city under a federal consent decree requiring expansive police reforms, courtroom revelations outlining abuses by officers with the rogue Gun Trace Task Force have made it far tougher to convince people in this starkly divided city that a shiny badge promises integrity.
While boosting Baltimore as a unique city, Smith also contrasted his hometown's eye-popping murder rates with other U.S. cities that have reduced bloodshed since the 1990s. "We must be brave, willing, creative, and unapologetic to change our city. Murderers, gang members, drug dealers, and the like are too comfortable," he said.
Late last month, annual crime statistics released by the FBI placed Baltimore's 2017 homicide rate well above that of any other large American metropolis, making it an anomaly in the national crime landscape for U.S. cities with populations over 500,000 people.
The 342 homicides last year in Maryland's biggest city yielded a homicide rate of 56 per 100,000 people. The per capita rate was a record high for the mid-Atlantic city. Among major U.S. cities, Baltimore was followed in the FBI's annual tally by Detroit, which last year recorded a homicide rate of 40 per 100,000 people.
Smith's resignation comes as City Hall is preparing to announce its latest police commissioner. It also comes shortly after a high-ranking Baltimore police commander quit the force after throwing a chair into a wall during a heated meeting with an aide to the commissioner.
Smith was brought to Baltimore's department from Maryland's Anne Arundel County by Kevin Davis, who was fired as Baltimore's police commissioner early this year. Davis was replaced by Darryl De Sousa, a Baltimore police veteran who quickly resigned under pressure after being criminally charged with failing to file three years of taxes.
Smith said he might explore politics in the future. When asked if Mayor Catherine Pugh's administration had any comment on Smith's resignation, her spokesman said she wished him well.