After Baton Rouge officers killed, Baltimore requires two police cars to respond to every call

The Baltimore Sun
Baltimore Police now requiring two-officer response for every call for service, after killings in Baton Rouge.

After the killing of three police officers Sunday in Baton Rouge, La., Baltimore City and Baltimore County police are requiring that two cars respond to every call.

"The safety of our police officers is paramount to their families, our community, and me," Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said in a statement announcing the policy. "Our capacity to serve relies on our commitment to keep our police officers safe as they protect our community."

T.J. Smith, a spokesman for the Police Department, said sending two vehicles will offer greater flexibility than having two officers in one car. For example, one officer can return to the station to file a report following a call, while the other can go back on patrol, he said.

"We hope the impact of the service to other calls is minimal," Smith said, noting the department will evaluate the effects of the change.

In Baltimore County, Cpl. John Wachter said the change should not affect the overall level of policing because it has not been unusual in the past for two officers respond to calls.

Other local law enforcement agencies said they did not plan any changes to current practice, including the Howard County Police Department, the Harford County Sheriff's Office and the Carroll County Sheriff's Office.

Lt. Ryan Frashure of the Anne Arundel County police offered a brief response when asked about possible changes, citing safety concerns in making too many details public. He noted that it is not unusual for multiple officers to respond to a call, and that sometimes the first to arrive will call off the backups.

Now, he said, "the chief has asked officers not to cancel calls for backup."

The changes come on the heels of the deadly attack Sunday in Baton Rouge, as well as the attack July 7 in Dallas, where a gunman killed five officers and wounded seven. Smith said the new Baltimore policy came from conversations about officer safety after the Dallas shootings.

Baltimore faced its own attack on law enforcement Thursday when a man armed with a semiautomatic rifle shot at four officers in the 2300 block of Winchester St. in West Baltimore. Two officers — who police on Monday identified as Warren Benn and Christopher Thomas — returned fire, killing the man. Police do not believe the gunman lured police to the scene.

"With everything that's going on throughout the country and throughout the world, officer safety has to be paramount," said Vince Canales, president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police. "This is just where we're at."

In other cities, New Orleans police are sending two cars to every call. Boston and Milwaukee are among those now requiring two officers in each car.

Milwaukee's changes come after an attack on an officer there, said Milwaukee police Sgt. Timothy Gauerke. Brandon Baranowski was sitting in his patrol car after responding to a call Sunday morning when a man approached the vehicle and began firing, wounding the officer.

The Baton Rouge and Dallas shootings were considered targeted attacks. Preliminary statistics from the FBI note 41 officers nationwide were killed in 2015, four of them after being ambushed.

The FBI issued a memo to Baltimore police Thursday about an increased threat to officers. The notice stated members of the Black Guerrilla Family gang had discussed how to ambush police.

Amid the increased threat, police must continue working, officials noted. Frashure said that, despite their safety concerns, officers must maintain positive relationships with the communities they serve.

Canales said his message to departments is the same as it has been after other attacks: Law enforcement must do everything possible so officers can return to their families at the end of the day.

Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore police union, said Davis was not taking the Baton Rouge incident lightly.

The new policy is "a start," Ryan said. "I think this is a good remedy that the commissioner has come up with for now."

Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this article.

wmassey@baltsun.com

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