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Mayor on police slowdown: 'As long as they plan to cash their paychecks, my expectation is that they work'

Addressing a slowdown in police activity, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday that officers who refuse to do their jobs can face internal discipline.

The mayor made clear she is concerned that some officers deliberately may not be doing their jobs.

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"We know there are some officers who we have some concerns about," Rawlings-Blake said. "I've been very clear with the FOP that their officers, as long as they plan to cash their paycheck, my expectation is that they work."

The mayor said she didn't want to paint all officers as not doing their jobs. Police have landed some major arrests in recent weeks, including filing charges against three suspects in the killing of 16-year-old Arnesha Bowers.

"We need them there," she said of the police. "We need them in partnership. We need them doing their jobs."

Arrests, which are one indicator of police activity, are down dramatically in recent weeks. Baltimore police arrested fewer people in May than in any month for at least three years, despite a surge in homicides and shootings across the city.

Several neighborhoods saw declines of more than 90 percent from April to May, while arrests in the West Baltimore area where Freddie Gray was arrested dropped by more than half during the same period, according to a Baltimore Sun analysis of police data. Citywide, arrests declined 43 percent from April to May.

"It's clear that arrests are down and it concerns me and the commissioner," Rawlings-Blake said. "I don't want to paint all of the officers with a broad brush. ... I encounter officers every day who are in the crime fight, who are out doing their jobs."

Six officers have been charged in the death of the 25-year-old Gray, who suffered spinal injuries while in police custody and died a week after his April 12 arrest.

The city's police union has said many officers are afraid that they risk being charged with crimes for trying to do their jobs.

Gene Ryan, president of the police union, has denied that there is an organized effort to police less.

"Is there a work slowdown? Absolutely not," he said in a statement. "Officers are out every day making arrests for crimes throughout the City. Officers may be second guessing themselves, though. Questioning if I make this stop or this arrest, will I be prosecuted? But to say there is a slowdown in work or 'blue flu' is false."

Gray's death while in police custody sparked days of protest that culminated with rioting, looting and arson on April 27, the day of his funeral. Union representatives have said officers were ill-equipped and unprotected when they responded to Mondawmin Mall, the location of the first violent clashes.

About 160 officers were injured by bricks, stones and other objects hurled at them, police union representatives say. The union said some officers didn't have shields or riot gear to protect themselves and were further hindered by command officers issuing "stand down" orders that forbade them from engaging the rock throwers.

Batts has denied that any of his command staff gave such an order. Union representatives have countered by requesting — through the Maryland Public Information Act — command transmission tapes, emails and text messages to determine if such an order was issued.

Rawlings-Blake, too, has denied she gave any such order.

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"We are currently in the midst of an extensive review that began before the FOP began its own after action review," the mayor said. "The public will know the full truth about what happened during the moments before and after the unrest. ...  It will be made clear that I've never ordered the brave men and women of the police department to stand down."

Two days before the worst of the rioting broke out, Rawlings-Blake said at a news conference that she instructed the police department to give peaceful protesters space to operate, but some took advantage of the situation and turned to violence.

"It's a very delicate balancing act, because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well," Rawlings-Blake said at the time.

The mayor has since said the media took her comments out of context, and denied that the city purposely allowed vandalism and property damage.

She said Wednesday she accepts criticism from the police union if it means the police slowdown will end.

"If they feel they need to beat up on me to get their officers back to work, they can do it all day long," she said.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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