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Public agencies careful about messaging during Freddie Gray unrest

Emails show careful messaging during Freddie Gray unrest

As agencies prepared to address the public amid the Freddie Gray unrest, they were careful about messaging, emails show.

The day after Baltimore erupted into rioting, Baltimore County officials prepared for a news briefing to assure its residents that they were safe and address rumors of unrest unfolding there.

County officials were preparing to tell residents to trust in their law enforcement.

What about changing "police force" to "police department?" Mike Field, the county attorney, wrote in an email to other officials who were working on the statement.

"Agree. We never use 'force,'" replied Elise Armacost, county police spokeswoman.

In the county, using the term "police department" rather than "police force" was "one of the first lessons that the one and only Bill Toohey ever shared with me," said Don Mohler, chief of staff to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, referring to the late police spokesman, who died in March.

Toohey "said the men and women in uniform in Baltimore County much prefer the term 'police department' to 'police force,'" Mohler said. "They thought the term 'force' had a negative connotation."

Other agencies were not as transparent in how they carefully crafted their messages. The Baltimore City school system, for example, redacted specific terms that they debated through email as they drafted a statement — while watching a live stream of kids assaulting a TV camera person.

"How will people read [redacted phrase]?" wrote Nicole Price, director of the system's Office of Family and Community Engagement.

"Do you have a revision to suggest?" asked Anne Fullerton, a spokeswoman for city schools.

"[Redacted]," replied the schools ombudsman Karen Lawrence.

The school system did not respond to requests for comment about why they redacted the phrases.

egreen@baltsun.com

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