Footage from Baltimore Police body cameras and the downtown CitiWatch surveillance network shows groups of youths gathered Saturday night at the Inner Harbor randomly breaking into fights with each other — and at times committing more serious assaults.
It shows clusters of kids casually chatting on the promenade around the water, but also sprinting along sidewalks and into traffic. It shows a large group fighting in the middle of Pratt Street, a half-dozen youths attacking a bicyclist on the ground, one teen jumping on the roofs of two cars, and another randomly kicking a passerby in the face before getting a high-five from a friend.
The video clips also show police officers repeatedly intervening to pluck individual youths out of larger groups as they were being attacked. At one point, a youth being targeted by the crowd around him runs directly into the arms of an officer, seemingly for protection.
The footage was part of a 5½-minute compilation of video that Baltimore Police officials put together in response to a request by The Baltimore Sun for Inner Harbor footage from Saturday evening, when hundreds of youths were hanging out downtown and police made six arrests.
A Sun reporter viewed the footage at police headquarters Wednesday before police released it publicly.
“We tried to give you a representational look of what happened,” said Matt Jablow, a police spokesman, of how the footage was compiled. “We went through a lot of body-worn and CitiWatch cameras trying to give you and the public a sense of what was going on there that night.”
While self-selected by police and limited in scope, the footage nonetheless provided insight into a situation that has spurred a large debate — with racial and political undertones — about youth in the city, the role of police in controlling them, how the two groups interact and whether the city has a handle on public safety in its most public of spaces.
Some youth advocates have stressed that kids in the city have too little to do on weekends — too few recreation opportunities and too few jobs — and that the Inner Harbor belongs as much to them as anyone. Some critics of the city’s handling of the situation say groups of kids gather downtown on summer nights specifically to cause trouble, and argue officials aren’t doing enough to prevent assaults and property damage they say ensues.
The footage shows that many of the kids who gathered Saturday in the Inner Harbor weren’t doing much more than hanging out outside on a nice night.
But it also shows groups of kids spontaneously fighting, fists swinging wildly, as police officers rushed to react — running after those doing the swinging.
Sometimes cops became rescuers. In one body-camera video, a teenage boy almost leaps into the arms of an officer as he is being chased. That officer and another then try to calm the boy down as they hold him close, with one officer saying, “Just relax. It’s not that serious.”
In another body-camera video, an officer can be heard screaming to her fellow officers that a boy in a purple jacket is being attacked. She sprints across an intersection in the heart of downtown to get to the boy, who by the time she arrives is already with other officers.
“Hold him. He’s a victim,” the first officer says.
Col. Richard Worley, the Baltimore Police Department’s chief of patrol who responded to the scene that night, said the video provides a good sense of what occurred.
“They were just randomly fighting with each other,” he said of the groups of youths as the video played at police headquarters.
Worley said he already has completed an after-action review of the events, and determined his officers did a “tremendous” job handling everything.
“Our officers don’t get rattled by this stuff anymore,” Worley said. The events of downtown, while larger in scale, were similar to other events that occur in districts all across the city on any given night, he said.
Of about 400 youths gathered downtown, six were arrested, Worley said.
There were some incidents of kids trying to smash windows, but many windows downtown have been reinforced and didn’t break, Worley said.
He said there was one reported use of force by an officer — who tackled a youth involved in jumping the bicyclist.
Body-camera footage from that incident shows about a half-dozen youths surrounding the bicyclist, who is on the ground, as an officer runs up to them. One boy — 14 years old — was arrested in that incident, charged with unarmed robbery, Worley said. The bike was stolen, but the bicyclist was alright.
Of the six people arrested, the youngest was an 11-year-old boy who was charged with disorderly conduct, Worley said. He said he did not know Wednesday what the boy was allegedly doing to warrant being arrested. He said everyone arrested was released by early Sunday morning, if not before.
Police are still looking for a youth who can be seen in CitiWatch footage standing on a stoop as people walk past him — their faces about the same level as his feet — before suddenly kicking one of the people walking by in the face. The victim continues walking away afterward, as another youth walks up to the first and slaps his hand, seemingly to congratulate him on the random assault.
In all of the videos, other people in the harbor go about their business. Many seem unfazed by the kids running around them.
Many of the officers appear calm, too, except for certain moments when they are responding to fights and assaults.
Kids, even in large numbers, are not a problem, Worley said.