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Police, Mayor butt heads with union over reform

Police, Mayor butt heads with union over reform
Baltimore police union President Gene Ryan. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

A dispute between Baltimore police, the police union and the mayor's office burst into public view Tuesday as the union questioned the Police Department's commitment to reform, while police officials and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake accused the union of misleading the public.

The Fraternal Order of Police said Tuesday that it was moving forward with an "after action report" of what occurred during the riots, but without command transmission tapes that it has requested from the Police Department. Union President Lt. Gene Ryan said in a statement that Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts "has missed an opportunity to regain the trust of the city as well as the rank and file police officers."

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"The bottom line is simply that our leadership — Commissioner Batts and State's Attorney [Marilyn] Mosby — has done nothing since the riots to investigate protocol shortcomings and better prepare our officers," Ryan said. "This is obviously a concern to my members, but should also greatly concern the citizens of Baltimore City. The conditions that led to the riot are still present and any incident can serve, once again, as a flash point."

Police accused Ryan and his public relations staff of grandstanding, and said he had not objected to an end-of-the-week deadline for the agency to provide the records. Rawlings-Blake said the union's statements were "without basis and do nothing to help our city heal."

Freddie Gray's death while in police custody sparked days of protest that culminated with rioting, looting and arson on April 27, the day of his funeral. Union representatives have said officers were ill-equipped and unprotected when they responded to Mondawmin Mall, the location of the first violent clashes.

About 160 officers were injured by bricks, stones and other objects hurled at them, police union representatives say. The union said officers didn't have shields or riot gear to protect themselves and were further hindered by command officers issuing "stand down" orders that forbade them from engaging the rock throwers.

Batts has denied that any of his command staff gave such an order. Union representatives have countered by requesting — through the Maryland Public Information Act — command transmission tapes, emails and text messages to determine if such an order was issued.

On Tuesday, Ryan said the union has not been given "all written correspondence and radio transmissions between City Hall and the Baltimore Police Department during the riots."

"For more than a month, we have repeatedly requested that this information be provided to no avail," his statement said. "The fact that we have not been supplied the appropriate information shows obvious inaction or, quite possibly, an intentional stall tactic on the part of both the [Baltimore Police Department] and City Hall."

Police officials objected to what they said was a union characterization that the agency wasn't improving safety and working conditions. The department listed 11 reforms under way, including training and the purchase of new equipment. The agency also said the International Association of Chiefs of Police is doing an independent review of the police response to the riots.

"There is no desire on behalf of the Baltimore Police Department to engage in a 'war of words' with FOP Lodge 3," the agency said in its statement.

Rawlings-Blake said she looked forward to sharing information and to the city's own review, which will show "the full truth of what happened during the moments before and after the unrest."

"It will be made clear that I never ordered the brave men and women of the Baltimore Police Department to stand down," she said.

Twitter.com/justingeorge

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