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Police union asks for emails, texts to investigate officer injuries after riots

The Baltimore police union called Wednesday on the Police Department to release internal communications so it could investigate whether commanders deployed officers unsafely during the riots that rocked the city in April.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said he would share that information with the union, but added that his commanders' decisions would also be reviewed by an independent police organization.

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Tensions between department leadership and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, which represents more than 2,500 sworn officers, have risen since the riots of April 27, when more than 130 officers were injured by bricks, rocks and other objects.

The rift comes as commanders and officers face pressure to suppress a record surge in violence in the city.

On Wednesday afternoon, Batts stood with federal and local law enforcement partners to detail the ways police are attacking the surge. Police reported three more homicides on Wednesday, for a total of six during the first three days of June. The 43 killings in May were the most in Baltimore in a single month since 1971.

Batts said police are arresting suspects, including a 24-year-old man who police say shot and wounded a 27-year-old and 9-year-old in the 2900 block of Arunah Ave. on Memorial Day. Batts said detectives have strong leads in other shootings, many of which police say have been driven by the theft of more than 175,000 doses of prescription drugs looted from 27 pharmacies and two methadone clinics.

"We are aggressive in our crime fight, using all the resources that are available to us," Batts said. "This is an all-hands-on-deck.

"These are not numbers. These are human beings who have lost their lives in the streets of Baltimore."

Batts said he is asking federal officials to send more federal agents and prosecutors and to file gun charges on more offenders.

"Collectively, we'll return this city back to normalcy," he said.

The commissioner also touched on police morale since the death of Freddie Gray in April, the protests and riots, and the arrests of six officers. Gray died after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody.

Some officers say the charges filed by State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby have made them hesitant to arrest suspects. Batts said a prosecutor spoke with police commanders in recent days to address those concerns. Batts said officers' legal questions are being answered, and peer counselors are available.

"Whether we have a morale issue or not, we have an ethical responsibility to keep the city safe. We have an ethical responsibility to make sure the 9-year-olds, the 7-year-olds, the babies of this city aren't harmed. We have a responsibility."

Officers have criticized the commanders' response to the unrest, saying they did not have proper riot gear to protect themselves, and a "stand down" order during the violence might have endangered the safety of officers.

Batts said none of his command staff made that order.

At a news conference Wednesday, union President Gene Ryan said members want to know "what was ordered [and] what was not ordered during the riots."

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"In the spirit of full transparency and cooperation," he said, union members have asked the Police Department for access to all communication tapes and text messages from command staff and emails between police commanders and City Hall.

The union is using the state's public information act to try to acquire the records from April 27 — the day riots and looting broke out across the city — to May 4.

Batts responded: "Just like anyone else, they have a right to the information we're going to share with them."

Batts said last week he had asked the International Association of Chiefs of Police to review police deployments and orders during the riots. He said representatives should arrive within 30 days.

"What I was looking for was an unbiased outside review," Batts said.

Ryan said Wednesday that the union had waited for Baltimore police to launch its own "after-action" review. But when it saw the department was not conducting a review, he said, the union pushed to resolve "misconceptions."

"What really matters are the lives of the men and women who protect our streets," Ryan said.

Twitter.com/justingeorge

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