Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake activated the city's Emergency Operations Center Monday morning "out of an abundance of caution" as jury deliberations are expected to begin in the case against Baltimore Police Officer William Porter.
Top members of the Rawlings-Blake administration opened the center at 10 a.m., including representatives from the police, fire, transportation, health and public works agencies. Porter is one of six officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray; all have pleaded not guilty. Following Gray's death in April, the city erupted into rioting.
The police department activitated a communication command center to release real-time information to various groups in the city.
"This activation ensures that representatives of our critical agencies will begin working side-by-side, and coordinated to respond if needed," Rawlings-Blake wrote in an sent at 8 a.m. to community stakeholders. "Additionally we are coordinating and communicating with our outside law enforcement agency partners in case we need to draw on their additional resources."
Rawlings-Blake noted that the precise timing of the next steps in the judicial process are unknown, but she wanted the city to be prepared for when the jury issues a verdict. Her goal of the email was to "keep lines of communication open, not as a sound of alarm."
The mayor said she wants business to continue as usual across Baltimore. City Hall and all city agencies are open and "ready to serve the citizens and businesses of Baltimore." Schools will operate on a normal schedule, she said.
The Police Department also activated the Joint Information Center at noon for various community stakeholders to gather, including representatives from the tourism industry, the school system, churches and hospitals.
T.J. Smith, police spokesman, said the center will allow a chance to disseminate "real time information, clear up rumors and reach out to people on demand, if need be." He said a "few dozen" people are gathered at the center.
The center was activated for the first time in September during motions hearings in the Gray case.
"This is something we categorized under lessons," said Smith, who is running the center.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis announced plans to create the center in August as a way to coordinate the release of emergency communications in the face of future unrest.
Rawlings-Blake met on Sunday with Davis, Fire Chief Niles Ford, Robert Maloney, the city's emergency management director, and members of her senior team.
"I have no doubt that we are prepared for any potential scenario," Rawlings-Blake wrote in the email.
The administration was widely criticized following the April unrest for being unprepared. Police ordered thousands of pieces of equipment in the hours after rioting broke out, and emails obtained by The Baltimore Sun showed a chaotic response. The messages, provided through a Maryland Public Information Act request, show communication that between agencies broke down.
Rawlings-Blake pledged better preparedness. In the email Monday, she said over the past seven months, the administration has:
- "Made significant improvements to our policies, procedures and communication protocols."
- "Provided specialized training and purchased necessary equipment in preparation of any potential unrest."
- "Improved our coordination and communications with local, state and federal partners."
The recommendations from two independent evaluations of the city's response to the unrest have been "reviewed and incorporated into our planning efforts," she added.
The mayor once again called for the city to have "respect" for the outcome of the judicial process, including "the decision of the 12 Baltimore residents charged with rendering judgment based on the evidence presented as a matter of law.
"Whether people agree or disagree with the jury's ultimate verdict, our reaction needs to be one of respect for our neighborhoods, and for the residents and businesses of our city."