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Baltimore spent $2.5 million on riot gear, including $84,480 on next-day delivery

As protests over Freddie Gray's death escalated, Baltimore police began ordering riot gear.

Police bought 690 suits of Damascus Gear hard-shell body armor for $275,052, plus hundreds of shoulder, shin, thigh and forearm guards. The city also bought 1,399 equipment duffel bags for $82,788. The total bill came to $650,719.

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The cost for next-day delivery: $84,480.

Police spokesman T.J. Smith said that batch of equipment arrived on April 27, 2015 — the day the city erupted in riots, looting and arson.

But police were still ill-equipped that day. And even after the riots were quelled, the atmosphere in the city remained tense as the trials approached for officers charged in the Gray's death.

The city spent a total of $2.54 million on police riot gear between the spring and summer of 2015, according to purchase orders released under a Maryland Public Information Act request.

The orders included 200 ballistic helmets, nearly 1,900 gas masks and 37,500 pepper-powder rounds. Police also purchased two olive-drab bomb suits, each about $16,600, to prepare for the anticipated flash points of the trials.

Gray died in April last year after suffering spinal cord injuries while in police custody. His death provoked protests and rioting. Some 380 businesses were damaged and looted, another 61 were burned. More than 150 officers were hurt, many by hurled bricks and rocks.

The city supplied gas masks with expired canisters as well as mismatched gear and helmets with missing padding. Some helmets were dry-rotted. Some gear hadn't been worn since the riots of 1968, Smith said.

"The equipment was so dated," Smith said. "There hadn't been a real need or use for it for a number of years. ... Then you have to spring into action and there isn't enough of it."

At a news conference about two months later, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake promised the 2,500 officers would be better equipped in the event of more violence.

"I want to make sure our officers are prepared should there be additional unrest following the verdicts in the Freddie Gray case," she said.

There wasn't. The trials concluded peacefully with one mistrial and three acquittals before prosecutors dropped the remaining charges more than a month ago.

In any event, the police are now better equipped.

The city bought 181 suits of SecPro Police Ultimate Riot Gear for $69,911. It bought $5,312 worth of spray-can fire suppressant. And it spent $570,655 on gas masks with $65,520 worth of filters for smoke, tear gas and pepper spray.

Officials also ordered smoke and flash grenades, night-vision and holographic weapon sights, and hundreds of slings, pouches and packs.

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The city bought thousands of pepper balls packing a "painful kinetic impact" and irritating powder, the supplier says online. The balls can be skipped off streets to form a barrier cloud.

It acquired 16 shoulder-fired Less Lethal Launchers for $12,116. The launchers can fire rounds of indelible paint or irritating powder 50 meters. According to the website, the launcher delivers "a sufficiently dissuasive level of pain."

—Tim Prudente

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