There were too many people in the Command Center, police were unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with riots. Those are just a few of the takeaways from a new report on the Baltimore riots issued by an independent police agency on Monday.
The 79-page report from the DC-based Police Executive Research Forum was requested by former BPD commissioner Anthony Batts. While the report says “officers showed restraint and a remarkable ability to accomplish a difficult job under exceptional circumstances,” PERF is critical of BPD for a lack of planning, disorganized command structure and lack of equipment during the April 25 and 27 riots.
The report says BPD should have had an Incident Action Plan in place for the specific incident before the April 25 protests that gave way to violence near Camden Yards. In the Command Center that police brass set up to make decisions and monitor the unrest, the report says there were at times more than 100 people in a room that could only hold 30-40 people. Roles in the command structure also shifted throughout the unrest, leading to further confusion.
On the ground, officers faced shifting dynamics, the report states. They were initially told that police were taking a “soft approach” to send a message that police were not expecting violence. However, when violence did happen, commanders were unsure about whether they should order arrests.
Equipment was another issue, as helmets and shields cracked, and BPD lacked up-to-date gas masks and protective suits. When protests turned violent, commanders were also unsure whether to stay in “soft” gear.
Despite the lengthy report, some unknowns remain about the day of the rioting itself. The report doesn’t delve into the source of the rumors of “purge” on social media. The “purge” rumor was traced only to “some BPS students” in the report. Equally unmentioned is the supposed threat that gangs would team up to take out police that emerged in the hours before violence broke out on Monday, April 27. A Baltimore Sun report previously relayed that the FBI found the info to be “non-credible” despite its wide release to media.
And a footnote said the PERF review was unable to determine who closed down buses at the Mondawmin transit hub, where the riots began. Witnesses said the lack of buses out and large police gathering near the transit hub essentially trapped the students.
On Monday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and BPD Commissioner Kevin Davis said the department has already implemented some recommendations from the report, including a $2 million investment in new riot gear.
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