Baltimore police have launched an internal probe into an incident where an on-duty officer, tipped off about a man who appeared to have tossed a gun into the bushes near Preston Gardens Park and then went back to retrieve it, declined to investigate because—in her words—”this isn’t my district.”
The incident came to police’s attention via footage from two firefighters who had their dash cam turned on at around 2:30 a.m. on Friday, July 6. Police shared the video with media at a press conference Monday.
In the footage, the firefighters are driving southbound on St. Paul near Lexington street when they spot a man wearing a white T-shirt and black basketball shorts with a gun appearing to be sticking out from his waistband. Seconds later, the firefighters say they see him toss it into the bushes. Later on in the video, the same man appears to come back to retrieve the weapon.
“He probably just did a shooting,” one of the firefighters says inside the car. “He just threw it in the f—in’ bushes.”
“That’s where all these f—in’ hoodrats are coming from,” the other firefighter later opines. He’s referring to the Block, which boasts a number strip clubs along the 400 block of E. Baltimore Street.
Seconds later, the same man appears to walk up to retrieve the gun from the bushes.
The firefighters—police said it was unclear if they were on- or off-duty—respond by calling what they saw into 911. They drive northbound up Calvert Street until they ran into a police officer.
“Hey, can you help me out?” one of the men in the car asks the officer. “There’s a guy who just dumped a gun. I just called it in twice, but it took them forever to respond. Right there at St. Paul and Lexington.”
The officer, off-camera, responds, “Sir, right now, I’m going back to the station. You called it in?”
The firefighter affirms.
“This isn’t my district,” she says.
“Alright,” one of the firefighters then begrudgingly says inside the car. “Protect and serve.”
Acting Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle condemned what he saw on the footage at a press conference Monday, labeling it “intolerable” and “totally unacceptable.”
“That officer should have immediately gotten on the radio, called for backup and responded to those observations from the firefighters.”
“We’ve got a responsibility, no matter where you are. If you wear this uniform and this badge, it says Baltimore City, and you’ve got the responsibility to serve any place in the city.”
The department has launched an internal investigation. Police spokesman T.J. Smith said in an email Tuesday that the officer has been identified and that the investigation is “active.” The officer has not been suspended, he said.
Police said Monday that they also plan to look into whether there’s body cam footage from the officer available.
Police did not end up arresting anyone as a result of the tip. In a follow-up statement sent via email Monday, Smith said he’d learned “the gun was recovered after an area canvass in the daylight.”
“We don’t know what this individual did with that gun before he originally had tossed it, and we don’t know what this individual did with that gun after he recovered it,” Tuggle said at the presser.
Smith said, “fortunately, there weren’t any incidents that occurred prior to this incident” or afterward in the “general area” involving a violent crime using a weapon, such as a shooting or robbery. “Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen at some point or another elsewhere, but it didn’t happen in that general area.”
The department’s Internal Affairs division brought the footage to Tuggle’s attention on Saturday, he said. He told media they decided to share it “in the interest of transparency,” and because they expected reporters would have eventually seen it.
One reporter noted the video of the officer declining to respond to a report of a tossed gun comes days after USA Today reported that, based on an analysis of millions of police dispatches, the number of “on-view” reports of suspicious activity from BPD officers fell considerably from April 2015, after the unrest following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody, through 2017. Tuggle himself conceded to the paper, “officers are not as aggressive as they once were, pre-2015.”
But the city’s top cop pushed back against the coverage on Monday, saying there were “misrepresentations” from the paper’s fixation on statistics for on-view stops by police. He referenced statistical drops in violent crime so far in 2018. “I would beg to differ with USA Today on that, to say that that is the sort of net effect of officers not wanting to do their job.”
Tuggle said he sees officers being “diligent” and “going the extra mile.” He also reminded media of the department’s recently announced change of shifting 115 officers to patrol positions, a move BPD and the mayor’s office hope will improve police presence and response at the neighborhood level.
But this example from July 6 was not an example of solid policing, police brass acknowledged Monday. Smith said the officer could have requested backup at the scene, and Tuggle said that even if she didn’t hear the call over the radio, that was “no excuse.”
“Everybody in this city deserves a police service that’s responsive,” Tuggle said. “Everybody. And if we’re not doing our jobs, then we need to be called to account.”
This story has been updated.
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