In light of recent developments in the Freddie Gray case, particularly the release of the Baltimore Police Union’s (FOP) report on the breakdown of command, and political will to enforce the law that led to riots, and the same day “coincidental” firing of Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, it may be worthwhile to explore what is almost certainly going on in the world of the Baltimore Police. Most Americans think big city policing is reflected in TV shows like “Law and Order,” and the various CSI spin offs, but those shows, due to the constraints of a 40-some minute format and the necessity of stereotypical storytelling taking precedence over authenticity, virtually always misrepresent reality.
A PDF version of the report may be found here. It’s relatively brief and absolutely worth your time.
The rioting following the death of Freddie Gray was ‘preventable,’ with the police response hindered by leadership that was concerned with image over safety, the city police union charged in a report released Wednesday.
The union, which collected accounts from officers, concluded that the ‘overwhelming sentiment of officers is that the Baltimore Police Department’s response to the riot was lacking in many areas.’
‘Officers characterized the Baltimore Police Department’s leadership during the riots as unprepared, politically motivated, uncaring and confusing,’ union President Gene Ryan said at a news conference.
Ryan said morale ‘has suffered greatly,’ but officers compiled the report because they ‘do not want to see Baltimore burn again.’
Officials at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, which represents more than 2,500 sworn officers, have been critical of decisions made by top police commanders during the unrest — including orders for officers to hold their lines rather than break off in smaller numbers to confront individuals causing damage or representing a threat to officer safety.
Police officials have said those orders were given to protect the safety of officers and bystanders in the areas surrounding the worst of the unrest.’
The 32-page review stated that officers claimed ‘that they lacked basic riot equipment, training, and, as events unfolded, direction from leadership,’ and that ‘the passive response … allowed the disorder to grow into full scale rioting.
And so it did. It gets worse:
The review outlined a number of issues, including orders given ‘not to engage protestors,’ that arrests ‘had to be approved by civilians’ in the police legal section, and that Commissioner Anthony W. Batts sought ‘to divide’ the department ‘rather than unite it.’ It also criticized the timing of the National Guard arrival and the department’s release of a later-unfounded gang threat in the hours prior to the unrest.
I’ll explain the dynamics involved shortly, but the cause of the rioting may be properly placed in the lap of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who before the riots was considered a rising Democrat political star. Bloomberg.com reports:
It’s a very delicate balancing act. Because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well,’
Said Rawlings-Blake shortly after the worst of the riots broke out. Watching her make those comments, I was amazed. Here was a standard issue, one-each, urban Democrat politician actually admitting mandatory Democrat thinking about such things. I knew immediately she had committed a gaffe: she accidently told the truth, and was in real trouble.
Rawlings-Blake quickly claimed that her comments had been taken out of context, but also said she used the “wrong phrase.” Unfortunately for her, millions of Americans saw her on videotape saying she gave criminals space to destroy. She did nothing–at the time–to take back those words, or to in any way indicate she did not mean to speak them.
The damage to the city and the police force was not just social or moral:
‘More than 130 officers were injured by bricks, rocks and other objects during the unrest on April 27 — which broke out hours after Gray’s funeral. In May, Batts apologized to the city’s officers, saying he put them in harm’s way. [skip]
After the protests turned destructive, hundreds of businesses were damaged as instances of looting and arson broke out across the city, particularly in West Baltimore.
After the FOP report was made public, Rawlings-Blake immediately went into CYA mode. The Baltimore Sun reports:
It is disappointing that the FOP continues to issue baseless and false information instead of working with us to find solutions that will protect our officers. The FOP is using the same sad playbook they relied on when they opposed our efforts to reform state laws and hold officers who act out of line accountable for their actions.
Our hope was that this report would shed some additional light on how we can better prepare our officers should there be future unrest. Instead this report is no more than a trumped up political document full of baseless accusations, finger pointing and personal attacks.
This is not a time for finger pointing and politics. The public and our officers need solutions based on all of the facts. The FOP declined to wait and gather all of the information before rushing to conclusions, which is a disservice to our officers who acted so courageously during the unrest.
We will not follow the same approach. Unlike the FOP, our reviews will offer the citizens and officers more than a rehash of tired political rhetoric.
Our review will be extensive, independent and consist of all of the facts.
We have already identified and corrected some weaknesses, including the need to update how we assess the effectiveness of our riot gear and an order to begin the process of placing cameras in the backs of all police transport vans.
Now is a time for healing; a time for progress. This report offers neither. When the city needs the FOP the most they have chosen to be their lesser selves. The Mayor remains committed to working with the officers of the city to seek solutions and push for the safer city we all believe is possible.
Notice that Rawlings-Blake’s statement does not, in any way, address the cause of the riots and the utterly ineffective response of the police to the rioters. “Progress” consists of better riot gear and cameras in transport vans? She also studiously avoids actually addressing anything specific in the FOP report. This is so because she can’t do it without blatantly lying. Normally, that’s not a problem for Democrat politicians, but she knows even the media is closely watching her these days. Of course, she is most disappointed that the FOP didn’t play ball with her and support her progressive narrative.
To protect Rawlings-Blake, someone had to be sacrificed. Fox News reports on that scapegoat:
The Baltimore mayor fired the troubled city’s police commissioner Wednesday, saying that a recent spike in homicides weeks after an unarmed black man died of injuries in police custody required a change in leadership.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake thanked Police Commissioner Anthony Batts for his service — and praised the job he had done — but said growing criticism of his leadership had become a “distraction” that was preventing the city from moving ahead.
Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, who has only been with the department since January, will serve as interim commissioner, Rawlings-Blake said.
As I’ll explain shortly, Batts had to know he would be toast.
We need a change,’ the mayor told a news conference, which was attended by Davis by her side. ‘This was not an easy decision but it is one that is in the best interest of Baltimore. The people of Baltimore deserve better and we’re going to get better.’ [skip]
‘As we have seen in recent weeks, too many continue to die on our streets, including three just last night and one earlier today,’ Rawlings-Blake said. Referring to Batts, she said that ‘recent events proved that his being here was a distraction.’
‘A key goal of my administration is making Baltimore a safer place. We cannot continue to debate the leadership of the department. We cannot continue to have the level of violence we’ve seen in recent weeks in this city. We have made progress; I don’t want to lose that progress.
Giving criminals “space to destroy” isn’t normally considered an effective strategy in making anyplace safer, nor does it normally contribute to “progress,” unless progress also includes urban renewal by means of arson.
Urban Policing Realities:
The higher up the rank ladder one climbs, the more they are isolated from actual police work. This is true to a lesser extent in smaller Law Enforcement agencies (LEAs), but is a major, and usually harmful, factor in large agencies. There is always a tendency to promote people far beyond their abilities–the Peter Principle–or merely to get them off the street because they’re to dangerous for real policing. In large urban police agencies, chiefs, commissioners, and higher-ranking administrators are hired primarily for their political loyalties, and often, for their race. While Anthony Batts has a reasonably impressive resume, there can be little doubt his race was a significant factor in his hiring. However, Batts should have known that if his superiors–primarily Rawlings-Blake–were in political danger, they’re throw him under the bus as fast or faster than Barack Obama would. Rawlings-Blake’s desperation might be evident in that Davis, Batts’ replacement, is white.
Batts, and those in LEAs like his, keep their jobs not because they’re excellent administrators, but primarily because they’re willing to enforce the Democrat party line, rein in police officers that actually try to do their jobs effectively, and are willing to spin just about anything as their masters demand.
Keep in mind Obama Administration priorities for law enforcement, which include avoiding arresting black criminals, making no stop and frisk stops, avoiding drug enforcement, and in general, allowing favored minority groups–usually black people–to do whatever they please without fear of legal consequences.
In such agencies, street level officers cannot be assured that doing their jobs properly and in accordance with the law and Constitution will keep them out of trouble, but generally, with the FOP running interference, an uneasy truce exists between police administrators and the people that actually do the work of policing. When the six officers were hastily arrested and grossly over-charged in Freddie Gray’s death, that truce was breached in such a way that it will not be repaired for many, many years, if ever.
What absolutely breached the minimum necessary trust for a functioning police agency was the police administration response, obviously following the orders of Rawlings-Blake (by her own inadvertent admission), to the riots. From the FOP report:
On Saturday, April 25, 2015, an officer stated that a command staff member issued orders, over citywide radio, not to engage rioters and not to do anything that might provoke an incident.
That same afternoon, the Central District had an occurrence and a command staff member responded on radio channel 11A that “looting is expected. Let it happen.”
Several officers stated their units were ordered to allow the looting of stores on Howard Street even though it was occurring directly in front of them.
On scene at a downtown CVS store, officers reported being told not to stop looters and to hold their position.
Again, over citywide radio on April 25, 2015, officers were advised not to respond to a Signal 13 (Officer Needs Assistance call) in the vicinity of Camden Yards.
One officer reported being praised by an on-scene commander for enduring the attack with no response despite being pummeled with bricks, rocks, bottles, etc.
If these anecdotes are accurate, and all available evidence appears to confirm them, this alone would be sufficient to cause any rational police officer to believe his superiors will not support him in professional policing. This, however, is absolutely insane:
In the April 25, 2015 roll call held at Baltimore Police Headquarters and conducted by Police Commissioner Batts and other high-ranking police commanders, several hundred police officers from the Baltimore Police Department and other jurisdictions were addressed. During this roll call, officers were ordered not to make any arrests until first approved by the Baltimore Police Department legal advisors. Before an arrest could take place, officers were told that they must notify command staff of the situation, give a description of the suspect and then maintain ‘eyes’ on the suspect until they received permission to make the arrest. If approved by the legal advisors for an arrest, officers were told an arrest team would then engage. Officers reported these instructions were also given as early as the protests at the Army/Navy game on December 13, 2014 and the Ravens Super Bowl parade on February 5, 2013. This glaring departure from recognized police procedure endangered both suspects and officers.
It is this kind of politically driven policing that not only endangers officers and suspects, but honest citizens. Unsaid in this is that the suspects, and the endangered honest citizens, are almost certainly black. If a police officer can’t be trusted to know when a violation of the law has occurred and to respond properly in making an arrest, they don’t belong in uniform. Police officers must, at minimum, have substantial authority and must be empowered with the reasonable exercise of discretion in doing their jobs. If they must be advised by lawyers before acting, there would be no reason to employ them; merely hire lawyers and train them as police officers. Of course, that would be a bit expensive. Obviously, despite this bizarre and dangerous procedure, politics ruled. Some people were essentially immune from arrest:
On April 21, 2015, James McArthur, a local activist and blogger, along with Baltimore Bloc protestors, was ordered to be released from the Western District.
In one case, Commissioner Batts himself ordered a sergeant to release two individuals who had assaulted officers by throwing rocks at Gay and Lombard Streets.
Commissioner Batts also ordered the release of a reporter at the Western District who had been arrested for hindering police.
Command staff reportedly ordered officers not to arrest at the Inner Harbor and not to pursue aggressors in the Western District.
In yet another case, a request to make an arrest was made over the radio but no response was received within a reasonable time in order to effect an arrest.
Any rational, professional police executive would be horrified to hear this:
Officers made comments that they felt like ‘clowns for the media’ and that the Department did not care what happened to them.
‘A captain ordered us into a vulnerable position and let us sit there and get pelted,’ stated one officer.
Another cited several requests via radio to utilize less lethal weapons [related to orders given to not utilize certain equipment] as officers were being injured by the crowd, only to be ordered not to engage.
Many felt as though the Baltimore Police Department command was frightened to make decisions because they were preoccupied with the Agency’s liability.
Police officers know all too well that if they are not allowed to properly protect themselves, they will be injured or killed. It is difficult to adequately convey to non-police officers how serious and complete the betrayal of Baltimore’s officers by their commanders and politicians was.
The report documents that officers were repeatedly told to advance and then retreat when commanders couldn’t make up their minds. They were also ordered to stand in lines–to no apparent tactical purpose–and to do nothing as they were attacked, en masse, by rock, concrete block and bottle throwing rioters. Putting officers on line and forcing them to endure being violently assaulted by out of control mobs is nothing less than criminal negligence. It utterly destroys the rule of law. How could any officer put in that position, particularly if injured, ever again trust his commanders? They’ve demonstrated they care nothing for their lives and will willingly sacrifice them on the alter of progressive political advantage.
The report clearly portrays a command staff fully qualified to shuffle paper and carry out the daily orders of Democrat political masters, but utterly inept–and deadly dangerous–in a genuine crisis. Such people invariably blame officers for their own failings, as the report makes plain. Consider this disturbing account:
An officer reported: ‘On the evening of April 27, 2015, I was one of the officers deployed to the Mondawmin Mall area in reference to the civil unrest/looting that was taking place. We were basically marched out in the street and lined up in front of the increasingly angry mob of people. The manner in which we were lined up left us exposed and out flanked and this basically continued for an extended period of time. We were just pulled back and forth by supervisors yelling to form lines in random patterns and places with no real purpose. On one instance, a member of upper command was making an arrest. The crowd began to move forward to disrupt the process at which time the upper command staff officer retrieved mace and deployed some, not only spraying the crowd but spraying officers down wind, myself included. I began to tear and violently cough. After this incident, we formed another line in the street and at this point, I believed that we were now going to do something to try and control or disperse the crowd. This is when the crowd began to throw rocks, bricks and chunks of concrete. At first, there were just a few objects being thrown. But when the crowd realized that we were not moving forward and not engaging them, they began to throw more and more objects/rocks, all getting bigger in size. I had never in my 14-year career been as afraid as I was at that moment. I was struck with a piece of concrete that I did not see coming. The blow buckled me to my knees. I can recall Commissioner Batts addressing the officers at headquarters prior to going out on the street. He pretty much patted himself on the back making statements like. ‘I have been in five riots and I will assure you that this is the real deal.’ With a potential riot looming, command staff was more concerned with officers not wearing black gloves and looking intimidating. With all this ‘experience’ and beforehand knowledge at Commissioner Batts’ disposal, he still led us officers to slaughter. We were ill equipped, overwhelmed and sent out with no less lethal crowd control weapons or real secondary plan. We were given the order to stand down, yet we could not retreat or defend ourselves. It wasn’t until after all of the officers were injured that we received riot equipment.
In large, urban agencies like Baltimore, there is always a balance to be struck between aggressive–though professional and legal–policing and politics. Politicians like Rawlings-Blake will always allow some degree of chaos as long as it doesn’t get too far out of hand. They will find some level of deaths, injuries and lawlessness to be acceptable.
Most of the time, through experience, officers know where the line is. They know how far they can go before political heat will be brought down on them. Then something like the Freddie Gray arrest happens, and race hustlers see advantage in expanding the usual narrative. When that happens, all bets are off. Officers have no idea where the lines are, and order breaks down.
Officers absolutely distrust their commanders, perhaps even their direct supervisors. So they back off and do the absolute minimum and establish informal, unwritten procedures to ensure that they cover each other to remain as safe as possible. The worst criminals are given free rein, and they immediately take advantage of it. With a racist federal government poking around looking to take over the Baltimore PD and perhaps prosecute even more officers, few BPD officers are going to even think of arresting anyone that might cause them any political trouble.
What this means is what we are seeing in Baltimore today. the murder rate has skyrocketed, assaults, thefts, burglaries, drug crimes, you name it, Baltimore is out of control. Black politicians swept into office on false promises of making the streets safe and delivering roses and unicorns for poor, black neighborhoods have been revealed as the self-serving utopian tyrants they always were, and as is always the case with Democrats, the very people they profess to love and want most to help, are those that suffer most under their policies and incompetence.
Should there be a change of venue in the Freddie Gray case? Baltimore itself needs a change of venue, and of leadership. But even if that happened today, the damage done to the Baltimore PD will take longer to repair–much longer.