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Baltimore mayor pledges improved riot gear before Freddie Gray verdict

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday that police will be equipped with new riot gear before verdicts in the Freddie Gray murder trial come down.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday that Baltimore police will be equipped with new riot gear before verdicts in the Freddie Gray trials come down.

The pledge was made after Rawlings-Blake acknowledged that officers did not have enough shields or body armor during the April riots, when about 160 officers were injured.

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"We hope to never have such unrest again in our city, but if we do, we need to make sure our officers are equipped for whatever situation they encounter," Rawlings-Blake said during a news conference at City Hall. "Specifically, I want to make sure our officers are prepared should there be additional unrest following the verdicts in the Freddie Gray case."

Gray died April 19 after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. His death triggered rioting, looting and arson, with more than 380 businesses reporting damage and 61 buildings damaged by fire. Six officers involved in Gray's detention, arrest or transport have been charged with crimes, including second-degree murder. All have pleaded not guilty.

Over the past two months, officers have said Rawlings-Blake, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts and his command staff ordered them not to engage looters and those throwing rocks. They say that order left them vulnerable to attacks.

Batts and his top commanders say officers were told at times to "hold the line" but the orders were given for officer safety because there was not enough backup or support for officers to engage mobs. Commanders said officers were sometimes asked to forgo arresting looters and arsonists because they were about to be redeployed to locations where officers or civilians had reported injuries or attacks.

Rawlings-Blake said no order was given telling officers to stand down and watch passively as buildings were looted.

"It's important to understand that [the buildings] weren't allowed to be looted," Rawlings-Blake said. "The officers were given tactical instructions to help ensure that they were safe as well as to deal with the situation. Unless you have enough officers to fully deal with the situation, they're not going to be sent into a situation where they can't fully engage."

She reiterated that she never told officers to ignore looting.

"I want to be very clear that no such order was given from me or the mayor's office," Rawlings-Blake said. "I would never tell our police officers to engage in any activity that increased the dangers that they already face every day. Nor would I tell our police officers to allow the destruction of our city."

She said the city is acting to make sure that officers are better prepared "should we confront a similar challenge in the future."

All of the Police Department's riot equipment is being inventoried and tested. Rawlings-Blake said some shields that had never been used in a tactical situation failed and will be replaced. Many officers have said they did not have shields, and few had body armor.

Rawlings-Blake said a system has been put in place to regularly review police equipment.

"We owe it to them and to the safety of our city to make sure they are properly equipped for whatever they encounter," she said.

A spokesman for the mayor did not know how much the upgrades would cost. Baltimore police said Wednesday that they could not immediately quantify the cost.

Rawlings-Blake said police are installing video cameras with the ability to record in every transport van.

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The police transport van that carried Gray had a video camera that was broken, police say. Even if it had been functioning, police say, the camera did not record and only allowed the driver to check on prisoners.

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