Baltimore Seeks More Federal Aid In Face Of Murder Surge

(Recasts with police commissioner's news conference)

By Donna Owens

BALTIMORE, June 3 (Reuters) - Baltimore police are seeking more federal help in the face of a sharp upturn in murders fueled by drug turf wars, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said on Wednesday.

The deadly surge has come as police tactics have come under criticism following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died in April from injuries in police custody.

Batts said that 27 pharmacies and two methadone clinics had been broken into since rioting, arson and looting erupted on April 27 hours after Gray's funeral.

"There's enough narcotics on the streets of Baltimore to keep it intoxicated for a year," he said at a news conference flanked by federal and state police officials.

"That amount of drugs has thrown off the balance" between gangs in the city, he said.

Baltimore posted 43 murders in May, the highest monthly total since 1972. Batts said he was requesting more federal agents and prosecutors to help fight the upturn in crime.

Batts said that in the last week officers had served 14 warrants assisted by federal agents and state police, and a task force of local, state and federal officers had arrested 83 people with open warrants.

Batts said one man had been arrested for the shooting deaths of a 27-year-old man and a 9-year-old boy over the May 23-25 Memorial Day weekend.

Six officers have been charged in the Gray case, and the U.S. Justice Department is investigating the Baltimore police over the use of force. Batts said the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a professional group, would investigate the Gray case as well.

Baltimore police were "in a stage of frustration and anger" over the charges and the unrest, he said.

But, he added, "We have an ethical responsibility to keep this city safe."

Lieutenant Gene Ryan, the president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, said the union was seeking internal records to find out what police commanders did when the rioting broke out.

The Baltimore union wants to do its own after-action report on the unrest since police had failed to do one, he told reporters in a separate news conference.

More than 160 police officers and scores of firefighters were injured in the unrest.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake met on Wednesday with U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez to discuss summer youth jobs, the second Cabinet member she has met with this week. (Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Sandra Maler)



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