Police audio offers look behind the scenes of Baltimore unrest

The Baltimore Sun
Recently-released radio chatter reveals challenges Baltimore police faced during April's unrest and looting.

On April 27 — the day Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who died in police custody, was laid to rest — rumblings of anger grew quickly into violent clashes between youth and police, spiraling into full-scale chaos with riots, arson, and looting across the city.

Recently released police radio transmissions reveal the challenges law enforcement officers faced on that day.

"Let's start corralling these kids, and let's start making arrests," one officer said just before 3 p.m.

But officers soon became overwhelmed -- even with reinforcements from surrounding counties, the Maryland State Police, and the National Guard. The scanner was periodically punctuated by the beeping of a Signal 13, an alert indicating an officer in need of assistance.

"They just outnumbered us and outflanked us," then-Police Commissioner Anthony Batts would later say.

Officers repeatedly asked for mace, pepper ball guns, tear gas, shields and additional manpower to defend themselves from "aggressors," — in addition to medical assistance for the injured.

"We're getting creamed! We need help down here at Gwynns Falls!" an officer yelled at 3:41 p.m.

Officers said they were under "heavy attack," getting pelted by rocks and bricks while on foot and in their vehicles.

A common refrain from officers in charge was to "hold the line, a direction to keep the police skirmish lines intact. A commanding officer yelled to those at Liberty Heights around 4 p.m., "Do not go forward and do not chase them!" Officers using tear gas were regularly reminded to "aim at the feet."

Throughout the day, commanding officers triaged calls for help and tried to stretch resources to the most in-demand zones, including the areas around Mondawmin Mall and Pennsylvania Station. Ultimately, more than 200 people were arrested and more than 130 officers were injured.

The Baltimore Sun listened to about 10 hours of police scanner audio from two tactical channels officers used to communicate with each other and their superiors from 2:30 p.m. until midnight on April 27.

cjedra@baltsun.com

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