Rawlings-Blake reflects on nearing anniversary of Freddie Gray arrest, death in Baltimore

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will be out of the country next week on the anniversary of Freddie Gray's arrest, a date tied to questions about how the city's police department has changed.

Rawlings-Blake — who is traveling to the Arabian Peninsula to visit Qatar in her capacity as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors — said this week she is not concerned that the trip takes her out of Baltimore on April 12. She returns on April 17.


Gray died on April 19 after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. His death set off widespread rioting and looting on the day of his funeral, April 27.

Rawlings-Blake was asked at a news conference Wednesday about the changes she has seen in the police department over the past year.

"From his death to the riots and the unrest, there have been significant changes that have been made," Rawlings-Blake said. "From training to equipment, and in so many ways, there have been changes and improvements and lessons learned."

The mayor also was asked whether people being transported in the back of police vans will be safer. Gray's transport in a van has been at the center of questions about his injury and subsequent death.

Rawlings-Blake said the police have improved their transport vans by buying video cameras to record the rides and adding more dividers to further separate detainees. The cameras come with GPS and touch screens.

The mayor said the department also has increased training and clarified policies about transporting people in custody. Those changes, she said, "provide a safer environment, as well as provide accountability and transparency."

The trip to Qatar is one of two international trips she will take in the coming weeks as part of her role with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. She will be traveling to Havana, Cuba from May 23 to 29.

Officials said the city will incur no costs for the trips.

Rawlings-Blake's chief of staff, Kaliope Parthemos, and deputy mayors Andrew Smullian and Khalil Zaied will accompany her to Qatar. That trip was made at the request of the country's ambassador. The mayor said she sees the potential to gain information on infrastructure improvements the country is making that can benefit Baltimore.

"Qatar has expressed interest in having closer relations with the U.S. Conference of Mayors," Rawlings-Blake said. "As president, I'll lead that delegation."

Smullian also will accompany Rawlings-Blake to Cuba. The delegation will meet with the Center for Democracy in the Americas and the government of Cuba during the trip. The U.S. recently restored diplomatic relations with the country.