BPD Faulted For Poor Planning And Communication During Riots

Nov 16, 2015

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake answer questions about a police think tank report critical of police response to riots last April following the death of Freddie Gray.
Credit P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Monday that a report from a police think tank confirmed many of the same concerns the department had after unrest last April in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray.

The report prepared by the Police Executive Research Forum, PERF, said the department was hampered by poor planning and poor communication.

Police spokesman T.J. Smith said the department received the report in late September and spent the last two months reviewing it.

The report said planning by city police was inadequate. It was unclear who had authority to make arrests or what role commanders and assisting law enforcement agencies should play.

The PERF report also said officers were confused by commands they received.  Several of them said they were told “not to engage” protesters or to “stand by,” which they took as a stand down order.

The City Fraternal Order of Police said, in its after action report last July, that officers were told to stand down.  But PERF said “such an order could not be substantiated.”

Davis said the department spent $2 million upgrading riot equipment after the riots, that more officers have been trained for civil disturbances and that the trainings will continue. In addition, the department has clarified mutual aid agreements with other law enforcement agencies.

The department also has established the Joint Information Center, JIC, to ensure better and clearer communication with police, media and city leaders.  And policies that were confusing during the riots – like when to make an arrest – have been made “abundantly clear,” Davis said.

Davis said new procedures were put to the test in September as protests during Freddie Gray pre-trial hearings took place and in October during an all-night protest at City Hall where sixteen people were arrested.

“We gave them every opportunity to engage in their civil disobedience and were forced to make arrests at 4:00 in the morning because, quite frankly, we didn’t want the business of the city to be interrupted the next day,” Davis said.

University of Baltimore professor and criminologist Jeffrey Ian Ross called the report comprehensive.

Law enforcement clashing with protesters during protests that turned violent Saturday, April 25 following the death of Freddie Gray.
Credit P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR

But he added there are some follow up questions that should be asked; such as why was there no solid plan in the first place.

“Was it because they didn’t have enough resources?  Was it low on the priority list?  Was it because of changing rules or people in command positions,” Ross asked.  “I think there are a lot of questions to be asked as a follow up to this report.”

Ross added the real test of whether the department has adopted the recommendations will come when the trials of the six officers accused in Gray’s death begin.

“There may very well be another possible riot situation,” he said.  “Depending upon the outcome of the trial of the six officers and how that is interpreted and reacted to by the general public.”

The first trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 30.

City Fraternal Order of Police President Gene Ryan said, in a statement, the PERF report supports findings in the union’s after action report and that the union looks forward to continuing a “positive relationship” with the department.

Mayoral Spokesman Howard Libit said John Hopkins University is still working on a report the city commissioned studying its response to the riot.   

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