Police Union: To make rioters look like 'the aggressors,' cops were told to endure bricks

Police union faults command, politicians' concern with image, for officers injuries

City leaders engaged in a political strategy to make sure that the Freddie Gray protesters and rioters "would appear to be the aggressors," the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 (FOP), says in an "After Action Report" released today. (You can download it here.) Police at roll call were told by commanders that the department "would not respond until they [the protesters] burned, looted and destroyed the city so that it would show that the rioters were forcing our hand."

Officers were ordered not to respond to looting of stores right in front of them, to use less-lethal weapons such as pepper gas in the least effective way, and even to not respond to a fellow officer's call for assistance, the report says.

During the run-up to the rioting, the police were told not to wear protective gear—not even gloves—because it looked intimidating. And then the gear they eventually did get was often mismatched, ill-fitting, or even expired. "Survey respondents and focus group participants reported receiving gas masks with expired canisters, gas masks with papers stating 'for lawn care only,' expired helmets with no padding," the report says. The officers were also not trained to use the equipment or how to deal with riots.

Soon after the report came out this morning, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake released a strongly worded rebuttal through her spokesman, Kevin Harris.

It reads, in part: "It is disappointing that the FOP continues to issue baseless and false information instead of working with us to find solutions that will protect our officers. The FOP is using the same sad playbook they relied on when they opposed our efforts to reform state laws and hold officers who act out of line accountable for their actions.

"Our hope was that this report would shed some additional light on how we can better prepare our officers should there be future unrest. Instead this report is no more than a trumped up political document full of baseless accusations, finger pointing and personal attacks."

The report is the first in what promises to become a series of competing documents on the riots and unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray in police custody three months ago. It says the mayor and police chief were not doing their own review of the action or best practices until after the union president, Lt. Gene Ryan, announced his organization was doing one. The report acknowledges that they began theirs "two months after the riots."

The 32-page report oozes contempt for the command staff and the city's political leaders, recounting orders and policies that seem almost designed to get police officers hurt or killed. About 200 officers sustained injuries, some severe. Morale has "suffered greatly" and line officers feel "humiliated" and "dejected," the report says. "We cannot . . . sit back and allow certain leaders to abdicate their responsibility to lead while placing blame on the police officers who stood strong in the face of adversity."

Along with a survey of and focus groups on police, the report relies on media reports—including videos of the unrest.

On the April 25 mini-riot, in which a peaceful march turned into violent altercations with downtown baseball fans, "officers followed direct orders from command staff not to intervene and engage the rioters," the report says. There is no indication that those who complied with the review believe any of the baseball fans may have played a role in instigating the violence. The report links this video and quotes a bystander saying, "Why are the police going the other way?" Someone else says, "The cops are going the opposite direction. I dunno, I might reverse the one-way street for this incident." Then as a car snakes through the crowd on the street, what sounds like the same guy says, "I would have run them over."

In another video referenced in the report, protestors are seen throwing garbage and debris at people seated outside the bars near Camden Yards. A young African-American man walks up and throws a trash can at an older, beefier white guy, who blocks it with his arm. Then the younger man throws a few punches at the older man, who blocks again and backs up as other young African-Americans approach. Throughout the video it is clear that debris and garbage are flying at and into the bar area, with little or none flying back out at the protesters.

Police were told not to respond to the unrest, the report says, even to a cry for help from a fellow cop: "Officers were advised not to respond to a Signal 13 (Officer Needs Assistance call) in the vicinity of Camden Yards."

The report says that on April 26, Ryan asked Commissioner Anthony Batts to call in the National Guard ahead of Freddie Gray's funeral. Batts said that would not be necessary. Citing Batts' June 2 press conference in which he said he had been planning for the unrest a week in advance and sought assistance from other police departments, the report asks why Batts did not request the National Guard when Ryan urged him to. The video link on that is not available. 

Police were told they could not arrest anyone without clearing it first with legal advisers at police headquarters. The report recommends that this not be done in the future. 

"In one case, Commissioner Batts himself ordered a sergeant to release two individuals who had assaulted officers by throwing rocks at Gay and Lombard Streets," the report says. City Paper asked the department for comment and will update this blog when or if we hear from them. 

The After Action report holds as an article of faith that arresting more people would have de-escalated the crisis. 

"Baltimore Police Department leadership should entrust the power to arrest to the on-scene commanders and front line supervisors," the report says. "Restricting on-scene response to riots with bureaucratic 'red tape' only slows the process of crowd control and emboldens rioters who see that on-scene officers have little power to arrest or detain."

The report also recommends better planning for a future unrest, including a deployment strategy that would allow police kept on post for 18 or more hours straight to get some rest—and some food and water.

The report says the commanders did not have timely or complete intelligence about the protests because the Criminal Intelligence Section is understaffed. "The Criminal Intelligence Section was once one of the premier law enforcement intelligence gathering units in the country," the report says. "Sadly, the Baltimore Police Criminal Intelligence Section has lost personnel and has been allowed to weaken. Ironically, as gangs like the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) continued to grow in Baltimore, the Criminal Intelligence Section continued to shrink. In January 2015, the continued downsizing of the Criminal Intelligence Section resulted in a veteran Detective Sergeant, recognized as one of the foremost intelligence experts, being transferred to patrol."

The commander of the unit was deployed to Mondawmin Mall for the riot instead of left in a position to develop intelligence, the report says: "This deployment raises serious organizational and operational questions as it occurred at the time of perhaps the greatest intelligence needs the Baltimore Police Department had ever faced."

Though the report does not draw any conclusions, the lack of good intelligence analysis may have led to a blunder the report highlights: the decision by the department's media section to release publicly what it (erroneously) called a "credible threat" by gangs against police officers. 

The media section compounded this error on June 25, after the threat was exposed as bogus, saying the department would "do so again," the report says. "This is another example of how the Baltimore Police Command is not committed to fixing the problems exposed by the riots.

"The correct procedure for disseminating this uncorroborated threat would not involve the Baltimore Police Media Communications Section. The Baltimore Police Criminal Intelligence Section would be responsible for disseminating this information. The communications would be restricted to law enforcement and designated 'law enforcement sensitive' and the threat would be characterized as uncorroborated."

The report suggests planning, training, and equipping ahead of time for riots, which are presumed to be always imminent: "The conditions that led to these riots are still present and any incident can serve, once again, as a flash point."


Click here for more from Edward Ericson Jr. or email Edward at eericson@citypaper.com

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