Commissioner: Unrest puts police OT to about $12 million

Riots cost $2 million in overtime, unrest in the western district requires "diplomacy," Batts says

The police department has spent about $12 million in overtime and other expenses to handle protests and unrest since last fall, Commissioner Anthony Batts told reporters at a press conference today.

The "civil unrest" and state of emergency following the funeral of Freddie Gray on April 27 cost "pretty close to about $2 million," Batts said at a noon press conference in his conference room. Marches in November and December in support of the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, cost another $2 million, Batts said. He did not specify how the other $8 million was spent.

He also confirmed that the department had not yet got a copy of the medical examiner's autopsy report on Gray, who died in police custody last month. Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis said the department routinely gets them from the State's Attorney's Office.

The remarks came in an open forum, the second Batts has held as part of a charm offensive with the media. The commissioner took questions politely for about half an hour before an aid ended the meeting. Batts' theme was "diplomacy." He said that, despite a spike in murders and shootings, only the Western District is especially violent, "and that tells us we have more work to do over there. It's an opportunity for diplomacy."

The district has seen 19 murders and 512 shooting this year, "dramatically" higher than the other districts, Batts said. (By the official count, there are 22 in the district, including Gray and a woman who died last year after being shot more than a decade ago.) When officers get out of their cars in the Western, Batts said, "they have 30 to 50 people surrounding them. Whenever you have 30 to 50 people it makes it difficult to get eyewitnesses."

The people are hostile, "many citizens with hand-held cameras that they're sticking in the officer's face," Batts said.

Asked if the officers were slowing down or not making arrests since the riot, Batts deflected the question. "We're getting guns off the streets," he said. "We're making good arrests."

He said the injured police officers he has spoken with are eager to get back to work. "They have the hearts of lions," he said. 

Batts would not say what lessons were learned from the deployment that preceded the riot. Some have said the police came in too heavy and exacerbated the violence. Police have said on call-in shows that the opposite happened—that they were told to "stand down." Batts denied that any commander gave that order. He said the department was undermanned in the lead-up to the riot but came up to strength shortly after and learned how to handle crowds very well during the week of the emergency. "I like to put two times as many officers as protesters," Batts said, citing the tendency of marching groups to splinter and the need for cops posted along the expected route. 

Batts said that he went "close to 25 days without a day off," working 20 to 22 hours a day. He said his command staff did the same.

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