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Slaying of Dallas officers worries police in Maryland

Activists gather in Mckeldin Square Friday to protest the shooting deaths of black men by police in Louisiana and Minneapolis this week.
Activists gather in Mckeldin Square Friday to protest the shooting deaths of black men by police in Louisiana and Minneapolis this week. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

Just as Baltimore police and the community appeared to be mending rifts that erupted last year over Freddie Gray's death, several law enforcement officials said the slayings of five Dallas officers and the fatal police shootings of black men in two other states this week threaten to rekindle the animosity.

"It's not as edgy [in Baltimore] as it was last year," said Lt. Kenneth Butler, president of the Vanguard Justice Society, an association for minority and women officers in Baltimore. But police here nonetheless feel "that we are under attack. … In 30 years, I've never seen anything like this."

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In the aftermath of the week's events, nearly 200 protesters gathered Friday evening at the Inner Harbor holding placards decrying police brutality and blocking traffic, a gathering similar to some following Gray's death last year.

Police here and across the nation were taking precautions to protect themselves against copycat attacks after five officers were killed and seven were wounded in Dallas by a gunman who opened fire during a protest of fatal shootings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota.

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Shootings of officers Thursday and Friday in Tennessee, Georgia and Missouri were reported as possible ambushes, leading to even more anxiety among police departments.

Anne Arundel County's sheriffs will be pairing up to serve warrants throughout the weekend, and police in Washington have also been ordered to patrol in pairs.

Acting Anne Arundel Sheriff Col. Rick Tabor alerted his agency of 76 sworn deputies to remain aware of any threats.

"I need them to be vigilant, to have their heads on a swivel more than usual," Tabor said. "And I told them that it's very important over the next several days that when they're off duty to make sure they're armed."

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Anne Arundel County Police Chief Tim Altomare had a similar message for his 700 officers. The department, he said, has "made sure we have extra sets of eyes looking out for our officers as they interact with the public." He did not offer specifics, and no agency has reported any threats.

EdwardC.Jackson, a retiredBaltimorepolicecolonel who teaches criminal justice atBaltimoreCity CommunityCollege, said such precautions are wise.

Many of the Baltimore police officers Jackson teaches have been texting him in "fear and anger" about the shootings in Dallas. They're worried something similar could happen here with so many "unstable people walking around with guns," he said.

"Look at the murder rate," Jackson said. "It could easily erupt in Baltimore. Now that it's out there, the cops have to be worried about a copycat."

He said one officer forwarded him a photo from a Baltimore-based Instagram account that showed a young man with a gun in his waistband holding a sign threatening police.

The civil unrest reminds Jackson of the 1960s protests over civil rights and the Vietnam War. The difference now, he said, is a willingness to "take up arms" against police.

"We're really living on the edge in this country, especially in the cities," Jackson said. "If this is not managed right, we're in for a long summer, and we may be in for a period in this nation that we have never seen before. Worse than the civil unrest in the 1960s. It's going to be a bloodbath in this country, and no one is going to win. I think police are fearful. They're confused."

Politicians have only added to their frustrations, Jackson said.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's comments that racism may have played a role in the shooting in his state this week of a black motorist by a white officer only furthers the perception that all police are racially motivated whenever they shoot someone, Jackson said. As a black man, Jackson said he is just as concerned about those issues as anyone.

But he said it is irresponsible for anyone, especially public officials, to rush to judgment before they know all the facts. He equates Dayton's comments to Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby's decision to charge six officers in connection with Gray's arrest and death from injuries sustained in police custody last year.

"We're protecting society from the bad guys, and now society is turning against us," Jackson said. "Across the nation our politicians are making speeches against our police before all the facts are in. If we don't get a handle on this quick, you're going to have a mass exodus from the profession."

On Friday in Anne Arundel County, Tabor and Altomare appeared together at the police training academy in Davidsonville to address 16 recruits of the academy's 83rd class.

Tabor said that he and the police chief wanted the recruits to know that "this is the time when our profession steps up."

"We all feel a sense of tragedy, but we're professionals and we need to do our jobs to the best of our abilities," Tabor said.

Altomare delivered a similar message. "The best way for the small minority of people who wish ill on law enforcement to win is for them to allow our relationship with the community to erode," he said. "Now is the time to stand up straighter, look our citizens in the eye and let them know we are here for them."

Butler agreed.

Officers assigned to the Baltimore protest Friday were not eager to be in the same position Dallas officers were on Thursday, he said.

"But we just have to get back out there," Butler said.

Butler said he was encouraged recently while patrolling at demonstrations over the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub.

"There were so many people who came up to us and shook our hands and said thank you," Butler said. "They realize it's a dangerous job. When it's something like [Dallas], it really hits home."

Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees said his deputies will wear mourning shrouds until the last Dallas officer is buried. He also addressed the inherent danger in being an officer.

"From the second we leave our house in our uniforms, every step we take has an unknown risk," DeWees said. "For those that want to randomly harm us, we are easy to find."

"The shooters in Dallas wanted to create a bigger divide between police and the community. We can't let that happen," he said. "Doing what those shooters wanted only devalues the lives of the officers that died and served their community honorably."

Anthony Barksdale, a retired Baltimore police deputy commissioner, knows the pain the Dallas officers are experiencing over the killings of their colleagues. In November 2002, Barksdale's partner in the narcotics division, Thomas Newman, was killed in what police called a "flat-out execution" while he was off duty.

"You go through the memories," Barksdale said. "You still do the job but a part of you goes away."

Every officer in the Dallas area will experience the trauma of losing a colleague, he said.

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"Even if you didn't know that officer that well, that person was part of your family," Barksdale said. "Dallas should be damn proud of that force. That force, bless them. They have my respect."

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Their work will only get more challenging in the days after, he added

"To report to work and to know how many seats at roll call are going to empty because of a sniper … those who continue to serve, bless them. It's not an easy thing to do."

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