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Former Baltimore police commissioner understated Taser use to city officials

The first-ever data analysis of all Taser incidents in Maryland over a three-year period reveals that police agencies across the state have predominantly used the devices against suspects who posed no immediate threat. In hundreds of cases, police didn’t follow widely accepted safety recommendations, The Baltimore Sun found.

Months after asking the U.S. Department of Justice to reform the Baltimore police force, Commissioner Anthony W. Batts went before a City Council committee to detail how much force officers used during arrests.

Batts told the public safety committee in January 2015 that police had logged fewer than 500 Taser deployments from 2012 to 2014, according to a copy of his 11-page presentation.

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But a six-month Baltimore Sun investigation into statewide Taser use found that Batts understated Taser use — by hundreds of incidents.

According to records obtained through Public Information Act requests, the department reported to the state that police used Tasers in 730 incidents during that period.

Taser use nearly doubled from 2013 to 2014 after declining the previous year, according to records from Maryland Governor's Office of Crime Control & Prevention, which has collected information on every Taser deployment since 2012.

City Councilman Warren Branch, head of the public safety committee, said in a recent interview that council members need accurate numbers.

"We expect transparency," Branch said. "I'm concerned about misleading information. How much are we to believe?"

Batts' presentation that day also included figures for incidents in which officers shot suspects and how many officers were disciplined for misconduct.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired Batts in July in the aftermath of riots following the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a spinal injury in police custody, and amid a skyrocketing homicide rate in the city.

Batts now lives in Florida and did not respond to multiple phone calls and email messages for comment.

That Taser report wasn't the first time Batts had reported inaccurate information.

As the nation watched the unrest following Gray's death, Batts told reporters in May 2015 that he had worked for years to address brutality and other misconduct and that he had terminated 50 employees over the previous two years for misconduct.

But the number of terminations, according to records provided to The Sun, was 25.

In December 2014, the commissioner announced that he had been named to President Barack Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

"I'm excited and honored to have been selected to be a member of this Task Force," Batts said in a statement at the time. "The work we are doing in Baltimore to rebuild public trust will be a tremendous benefit to me as we look to improve community relations nationwide."

The announcement surprised officials at the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House; they said Obama had not included Batts on the task force. A spokeswoman for Batts attributed the gaffe to "confusion" after the commissioner attended a White House meeting.

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—Mark Puente

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