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by Peter Moskos

July 9, 2015

"If what the FOP reported is wrong... prove it."

That's from the Sun. The FOP riot report is good. Well done. And based on everything I've heard from police officers, true. It's proofread and a surprisingly well put together package (the whole "issue" and "recommendation" and "references" thing).

Keep in mind this is coming from a local FOP chapter that misspelled my name on my membership card...

It's actually rare I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with police unions. (See, for instance, here and here and here.) But this isn't the first time I've been impressed with the minds and writing ability of Baltimore's FOP Lodge 3.

I'm not going to summarize their report. (If you care enough, just read it.) Overall, it's a very damning report of poor police leadership and a police organization that let down both its workers and the citizens of Baltimore. But I will say this: if you instinctively don't believe anything coming from a police officers' union, just pretend the report was written by the local chapter of the ACLU or something. You'd be surprised how much of this report can pass that test.

Here's what the Sun has to say [I've added selective bolding]:
The FOP has had a legacy of tension with Mayor Rawlings-Blake.... It is in that sense not necessarily the ideal entity to take on the task of analyzing how she and her police commissioner, Anthony Batts, handled an event that left many officers literally and figuratively wounded. The mayor pounced on that history to discredit the report as "a trumped up political document full of baseless allegations, finger pointing and personal attacks." (Speaking of personal attacks, the statement accuses the FOP of "choosing to be their lesser selves.") But the assertions the union makes about what instructions officers were given and how they were trained and equipped are too specific and detailed to be dismissed so easily.
And this (keep in mind this is from the Sun and not the FOP):
The FOP's report is based on interviews with police who were on the front lines, focus groups and surveys.... But it is rich for the mayor's spokesman to tut-tut that "the FOP continues to issue baseless and false information instead of working with us to find solutions that will protect our officers." The FOP filed a Public Information Act request for reams of information that could have shed some objective light on the situation — tapes of radio transmissions, emails, text messages and the like — but the city has handed over very little of it.

This report has its limitations and biases, but more than two months after the fact, it's the only report we've got. Neither the police nor the mayor's administration have issued anything like a comprehensive assessment of what happened on those nights of violence, and a third-party review by the Police Executive Research Forum is only slated to begin today. If what the FOP reported is wrong, Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Commissioner Batts need to prove it.
Oh.... did I hear the Sun just go "snap"?

But seriously, bad leadership has consequences. There are problems with the whole Rawlings-Blake administration. She is not up to the job of running Baltimore.

It's also worth reading this Baltimore Sun editorial in its entirety. (Note the story of the stolen bike and the closed station. In covering all these events, kudos to the Sun and their soon-to-be Pulitzer-winning ace reporters for living up to the paper's "Light For All" motto.)

[Update: I just learned the FOP report was put together by a consultant firm. That makes sense. Still though, kudos to the FOP for knowing their limitations and not trying to do it in-house.]


john mosby said...

Prof, serious question about the "give them space to destroy" tactic. From what I am reading in the FOP report, it seems that BPD leadership stressed that there had to be visible destruction by the rioters before cops could move in. Implied in this tactic is that, without some good news footage of people actually committing crimes, proactive policing would appear to be adding more of the same heavy-handedness that allegedly led to Mr Gray's death.

Now of course the tactic doesn't seem to have been implemented correctly, in that, even once there was clearly visible looting etc, there didn't seem to be much of a response to shut it down.

But assuming you could make it work - get some good optics of clear evildoers, then shut them down - what's wrong with that?

In an emergency situation, just like in a non-emergency situation, the police are not bound to prevent or even arrest for any particular individual crime. They have to triage and apply resources where they can be more effective.

Letting the rioters gather, show their intentions, then boxing them in and mass-arresting as many of them as possible might indeed be more effective than Terry-stopping hundreds of individuals who look like they might be fixin to riot.

Or are you saying that this tactic never works, because it carries the seeds of its own destruction? If you let a critical mass of rioters start looting, you can't stop the chain reaction anymore, especially with a relatively small force of officers?


Moskos said...

I'm saying the tactic didn't work in Baltimore. I also think politicians should have been willing to face criticism, in a counterfactual world, that police over-reacted and moved in too fast.

In hindsight, too bad the headlines were not about blaming the police about over aggressive and "unnecessary" tactics.

The problems were very specific on the day of the riot. The whole Mondawmin Mall fiasco (from the buses being shut down to cops being told to do the hokey pokey). The whole surprise that criminals would be active in *both* the Western and Eastern districts.

The whole officers standing around doing nothing but receiving thrown objects.

I think the biggest problem was that police were not allowed to react even *after* violence and destruction started. There is a certain point where you need to make the decision to use force, arrest people, and do so overwhelmingly. The BPD missed that point, and then the city burned. And then police were helpless.

What happened in Baltimore was big lines of cops told to nothing. Or even worse, do a little and then stop. It's the worst case scenario. When is the right moment to react? Hard to say. You need to leave that to the supervisors on scene and not some abstract "unified command." When cops say something is going on here and now and we want to do something about it, say, 10-4! Officers were not given that discretion at Baltimore. Not till much later.

The NYPD would have boxed everybody in and mass-arrested. Many people have a problem with that (myself included). I think the NYPD *has* reacted too quickly (see, they can't win!). But that's not to say it can't be an effective tactic in terms of keeping the peace.

But also the NYPD can do that in part because they have so many more officers at their disposal. I don't know if that would have been possible in Baltimore with maybe 1,000 officers on the street, spread out over too much of the city. But certainly there should have been arrest squads coming out of those lines more quickly to make arrests when destruction happened right in front of police officers.

Adam said...

I've been increasingly impressed with the Sun's editorial board. Their earlier opinion pieces on Freddie Gray/police stuff were a bit sloppy, but they've done a much better job since then. Here's their latest piece:


Unknown said...

The big lesson drawn by police, the National Guard, and the federal government from the 60s riots was that "a show of force" at the very start of trouble helps to keep a lid on things before they get out of control. But, as Prof Moskos points out, reacting too quickly sometimes is, and can appear to be, repressive, that is, unnecessary and over-aggressive.

Sometimes a show of force can anger the crowd as it appears to be more of the same, especially if the riot is an expression of frustration and anger at the police. I think Moskos is right to say that some discretion needs to be left to on-the-scene commanders who can read the situation and determine what needs to be done. That doesn't mean that top officials shouldn't give them broad but firm parameters within which they have to operate.

Optics are huge in a riot. The crowd to some extent does take its cue from what the police are doing, i.e., what the police will let them get away with. The mayor's public (!) comment about giving people "space to destroy" was unfortunate, but the impulse is understandable. Philly Police Commissioner Howard Leary did a similar thing in the '64 riots. He told the ranks to holster their weapons and, effectively, to let looters loot. A lot of line commanders, however, were pissed, and said as much to the press. Frank Rizzo, of course, was among the disgruntled.