Review shows major shortcomings in Baltimore police riot response

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 16, 2015 12:40 PM

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) - Baltimore's police response to rioting in April showed major shortcomings, including a lack of planning, murky orders and flimsy protective gear, according to an independent review released on Monday.

The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) think tank report, commissioned by Baltimore police, provides solutions to lapses during protests, arson and looting sparked by the April 19 death of a black man, Freddie Gray, who died from an injury sustained in police custody.

The unrest left nearly 400 buildings damaged or destroyed and about 155 officers were injured. City officials imposed a curfew, and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan ordered in National Guard troops to restore order.

"We have worked tirelessly to address many of the recommendations that have been proposed in this report and many of them have been completed," the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) said in a statement.

The PERF report said that during the rioting the Watch Center, a police operations headquarters, had about 100 people crowded into a space that normally held 30 or 40. The area also lacked needed computers.

"People who worked in the ... Center described the room as 'chaotic' and 'distracting,' and said there were many people in the room who wanted to be involved but were not vital to operations," the review said.

The department did not have an adequate plan for the unrest that began on April 25 downtown and flared two days later into rioting in much of the city, the analysis said.

Officers lacked direction about when they should carry out arrests and who could order them. Orders also were unclear, with patrol officers telling PERF that they were told "not to engage" or "stand by."

Some officers interpreted those orders as meaning "stand down." Others said they heard orders to "hold the line," the review said.

Officers lacked adequate training and equipment for unrest, such as advanced riot gear and gas masks that worked. "BPD helmets and shields were not sturdy enough, cracking when they were hit by rocks thrown by rioters," it said.

A July review by the Baltimore police union said officers had inadequate protective gear and were put at risk from unclear orders.

Baltimore has been hit by rising violence since the riots. Homicides reached 300 for the year on Saturday, the worst toll since 1999.

Six officers have been charged in Gray's death. The first trial is scheduled to start on Nov. 30.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Alan Crosby)