The Chatter

​New Report Highly Critical of Police Leadership Handling of April Unrest

Review chronicles broad planning failure, unclear arrest policies, and command center confusion.

By Ron Cassie | November 16, 2015, 2:09 pm

-Matt Rourke/AP
The Chatter

​New Report Highly Critical of Police Leadership Handling of April Unrest

Review chronicles broad planning failure, unclear arrest policies, and command center confusion.

By Ron Cassie | November 16, 2015, 2:09 pm

-Matt Rourke/AP

Before he was fired by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in July, former police commissioner Anthony Batts requested an outside review of his department’s handling of the April unrest following Freddie Gray’s death from injuries suffered while in custody.

That review, conducted by the Police Executive Review Forum [PERF], a well-regarded Washington, D.C.-based law enforcement think tank, has been completed and was publicly released Monday.

Among other findings, the report is highly critical of the department’s preparation, highlighting that planning—despite intelligence—was far from adequate to maintain “an orderly, effective response” to the civil unrest in the city from April 25 through May 3.

Other “major shortcomings” in the Baltimore Police Department’s response to the unrest included changing command roles without notice and failing to establish and communicate clear arrest policies.

A significant factor contributing to the confusion during the rioting, according to the review, “was a lack of clarity about orders being given by BPD commanders.”

The review’s investigators report that several patrol officers told them that they were ordered “not to engage” with the protesters or to “stand-by.” Other police personnel interviewed told investigators that they heard orders to “hold the line.” However, rumors that there was an issuance of an order to “stand down” could not be substantiated, according to the report.

Also, investigators were unable to determine who, or what agency, was responsible for canceling normal bus service at Mondawmin Mall, a transportatation hub, on Monday, April 27 after students got out of school that afternoon. That decision is largely viewed as a contributing factor to the start of the violence that day.

The 79-page document, titled “Lessons Learned from the 2015 Civil Unrest in Baltimore," found that a lack of clarity about the meanings of the orders added to a sense of disorientation within the police department.

The report—while praising frontline officers' restraint and courage—also highlighted the crowding and confusion inside the department’s command center—a room with space for 30-40 people, but which was filled with up to 100 people at times during the protests and riot.

The review also found that equipment designed to protect officers on the street was “severely lacking,” including helmets and shields that cracked after being struck by rocks tossed by rioters.

The review also found that there that were logistical and communication problems in coordinating the deployment of other police agencies arriving in Baltimore, including confusion about roles and use-of-force policies.

At a press conference at City Hall Monday morning, Rawlings-Blake and new police commissioner Kevin Davis did not dispute any of the report's findings. Davis, in fact, said that many of the recommendations in the review are already being implemented, including changes in planning and preparation structures for critical incidents as well as clarifying communications and arrest policies in the field during crises. The report and its findings were similarly supported by Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police president Gene Ryan.

"Now that we have all acknowledged that there were very serious issues related to the response of the Baltimore Police Department, and City leadership, to those horrific events, it must be said that under the leadership of Commissioner Kevin Davis, the agency has worked diligently to correct its faults and to better prepare for any further situations of this nature," Ryan said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Davis also said that “mutual aid” agreements with other police agencies have been updated and made. He also said that city has invested nearly $2 million in new protective gear for officers, whom he praised for their bravery in dealing with last spring’s riot and unrest.

The report also noted that scale of the unrest and rioting was unlike anything the city had witnessed since 1968 and would stress the resources of any police agency. It said that city police officers and many civilian employees “were pushed to the limits of their capabilities.” It also noted the assistance police received from many members in the Baltimore community.

From the report:

“The courage under pressure of countless BPD officers and supervisors should not be lost amid the critiques found in this assessment. Members of the department were asked to do a very difficult job under stressful circumstances with little rest between work assignments, and they performed admirably under these circumstances. Approximately 155 officers were injured during the week of civil unrest and rioting, and many more were involved in intense, high-risk situations. All leave was cancelled on April 25 and from April 27 to May 3, and 12-hour shifts were in place from April 29 to May 3. This left officers and supervisors in some of the most stressful circumstances of their careers with little time to recuperate. Members of the department showed restraint and a remarkable ability to accomplish a difficult job under exceptional circumstances.

Furthermore, many community members showed support for the police as they attempted to restore order to the city. Community organizations and individuals donated large quantities of food 8 and water to sustain officers who were on duty for long periods of time. Members of the 300 Men March organization acted as a peaceful barrier between protesters and officers on April 28. And community members in some areas worked with the police to protect their neighborhoods from looting. BPD should build on these positive developments in establishing and restoring trust with its communities.”

Meet The Author

Ron Cassie is a senior editor for Baltimore, where he covers the environment, education, medicine, politics, and city life.

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