Report From Johns Hopkins Researchers Addresses Lingering Questions About Baltimore Riots

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cvsfireA few weeks ago, an independent report critical of the Baltimore Police Department’s handling of the riots that followed Freddie Gray’s funeral made a lot of recommendations with regard to better organization in the ranks, but did not address a few lingering questions central to analyses of the April 27 unrest. On Friday, a second report from Johns Hopkins University tackles some of those questions.

The 76-page report looks “more broadly at the policies and actions of all Baltimore City agencies” than the first report, according to the city. The latest review is critical of the police department’s lack of organization, equipment and training for mass demonstrations that could eventually turn violent, and makes recommendations for improvement in each year. In a statement, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said. “we have addressed, or are in the process of addressing, many of the recommendations in the report.”

The report also centers in on several key specific moments from April 27, but said it does not seek to determine “who is at fault.”

“We do not believe that any one or two or three individuals are at fault, or by themselves responsible for any shortcomings of the City’s response in April. Rather, we believe that the findings herein indicate system-wide deficiencies of long standing, not a failure in or of individual leadership,” the report states

Here’s a glimpse at what the report found:

The Threat of Gangs “Teaming Up” During Gray’s funeral, the police department circulated information that gangs were “teaming up” to take out police. Since then, documents have revealed that the threat was deemed “non-credible.” The Hopkins research team did its own work, finding that it resulted in the release of “uncorroborated, unverified information of a significant public threat (of still questionable validity).” The report states that this resulted in “unnecessarily heightened fear.” The report also states the gang members “leveraged this opportunity to use a mass media platform to refute the BPD claim, potentially undermining the public perception of BPD credibility.” The report recommends BPD improve intelligence gathering.

The “Purge” Information about another social media rumor, which threatened a “purge” at Mondawmin Mall, wasn’t communicated quickly enough to “stakeholders outside of BPD,” the report states. Similarly, the report advises to improve intelligence gathering and dissemination.

The Mondawmin Transit Hub Anecdotal evidence has honed in on the decision to shut down buses at Mondawmin Mall just before the unrest escalated, but prior reports didn’t state what officials ordered the shutdown. The report states that the decision was made jointly by Baltimore police, Baltimore City school police and MTA police. “There was concern that buses could not be secured and that MTA personnel would not be safe to continue serving on their routes,” the report states. The report states that service was “diverted” around Mondawmin, rather than shut down. The report also addresses the concerns that students could not leave. “…Providing additional secured buses to evacuate the 34 scene may have facilitated event de-escalation and better supported community needs,” the report states. Like the finding discussed above, the report says this incident is more a result of failure to properly communicate information than a tactical error. Authorities could have communicated that the final buses were leaving, and the lack of info about why bus service was stopped “left room for activists and the media to portray the change as a bus “shutdown” and to inspire crowd unrest in response,” the report states.

How Many Fires? Another example of poor public communication lies in the “perception” of how many fires were started during the riots. “Many in the public believe that hundreds of car and building fires were started. In fact, according to BCFD records, there were a total of 33 building fires, and only two of those were 3-alarm fires. There were a total of 55 vehicle fires, 22 of which were already extinguished by the time of BCFD arrival and the remaining 33 of which were successfully extinguished by BCFD,” the report states.

911 Busy Signals Even though officials changed protocol that made it so only calls about life-threatening situations were dispatched, the 911 center was still inundated with calls, resulting in busy signals. The report recommends leveraging alternative call centers or 311 for non-emergency calls.

The city also released a full timeline of the events surrounding Freddie Gray’s death, and the riots. It starts with Trayvon Martin’s death.

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