A new report from the Police Executive Research Forum confirmed Monday what many people had surmised months ago -- that the Baltimore Police Department was ill-prepared to handle the protests and riots that swept the city following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, an unarmed black man who suffered fatal injuries while in police custody in April.
The report from PERF, a nonprofit that often works with city leaders on issues of police reform, was provided to The Baltimore Sun on Monday. It includes a slew of findings and lists 56 things the department can improve on in the future.
Some of the department's key missteps included inadequate planning and sudden shifts in command roles, as well as unclear arrest policies and general confusion over how, exactly, certain orders should be interpreted.
“Most cities have not experienced large-scale riots for many years or even decades, so there may be a tendency to let more immediate concerns, such as increasing violent crime rates, take priority over planning for the types of incidents that occur rarely and without warning,” the PERF report said. “The Baltimore Police Department’s experience demonstrates that agencies must be prepared for all types of incidents.”
Baltimore's police department, like any other that receives federal funding, is required to use the National Incident Management System, a standardized emergency-response procedure developed by the Department of Homeland Security. NIMS is meant to guide law enforcement when dealing with situations like natural disasters and terrorist attacks, according to the PERF report.
But in April, instead of following NIMS practices, the Baltimore police used their own version of a response plan -- one they'd been using since 2013, "adapting it to various situations," the report notes.
“The plan lacked specific detail in several areas that are crucial for involved personnel to understand during an incident, such as the assignment of roles and responsibilities," the report says. "The plan did not account for the possibility that the incident might last longer than a day or two. And one of the biggest problems with the BPD’s operational plan was that many commanders and most patrol officers were not familiar with it."
In July, a separate report released by the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 detailed similar findings. It found that officers were inadequately prepared, poorly instructed and unaware of whom they were reporting to during the riots that followed Gray's funeral on April 27. The police union report also noted that officers had "little to no training in riot/civil unrest situations."
At a press conference following its release, Gene Ryan -- the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, which represents more than 2,500 cops -- said that police officers thought BPD leadership was "unprepared, politically motivated, uncaring and confusing" during the riots. One 14-year veteran officer even said that Anthony Batts, who was Baltimore's police commissioner during the riots, "led us officers to slaughter."
City officials have endorsed the PERF report and are expected to discuss it publicly on Monday.
But the scope of the problem goes beyond Baltimore. In June, it was reported that a study on police actions in Ferguson, Missouri, commissioned by the U.S. Justice Department, found that many of the strategies used there by police -- such as training sniper rifles on crowds of peaceful protesters in broad daylight -- had only provoked additional unrest during the period following Michael Brown's death in August 2014.
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