Reporters staffing the newsroom on Saturday, March 17, had some inkling that a large crowd had converged on downtown. But initial calls to police downplayed the events, noting large crowds but not too many problems.
It wasn’t until late Saturday night, and after the deadlines for most editions, that police confirmed that there had been a disturbance and that it was serious. But at that hour, few details were available.
The next day, Sunday, police said 10 juveniles had been arrested and witnesses were quoted saying the crowd numbered in the hundreds and had been rowdy. “It was definitely a lot — a lot of kids, a lot of police,” a department spokesman said.
Police also on Sunday revealed that an officer may have used a Taser to subdue a young man. Witnesses described blocked off streets, and police said they wanted to keep the crowds moving to get them out of the area.
By Monday, police offered more details, describing a stabbing between two teens who knew each other from school, revealing that the Tased teen was 16, and that officers from three districts were needed to quell the disturbance. "People from different neighborhoods having beefs," is how the police department’s chief spokesman described the scene.
Curious about what the scene really looked like, The Baltimore Sun requested the police dispatch tapes for about three hours on the night of March 17, concentrating on downtown. The newspaper asked for transmissions involving the Central District, Inner Harbor, helicopter and CitiWatch, where surveillance cameras are monitored.
The Police Department honored the request for audio tapes, but denied a request for video from the surveillance cameras, arguing that footage is part of an ongoing investigation involving the 10 juveniles who were arrested.
The audio tapes reveal the full scope of the disturbance and the sheer enormity of the crowd, as well as two other possible stabbings in addition to what police described. Up to 500 teens massed in a single block, and many fights were reported. Officers had a hard time reaching the fisticuffs – by the time they waded into the crowds, the combatants had mostly stopped and moved a block away.
Whether authorities purposely downplayed what happened downtown on St. Patrick’s Day or simply lost track amid the chaos is impossible to determine. Police simply say they effectively handled a rowdy crowd with minimal arrests, minor injuries and without attracting too much attention.