BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Baltimore's police response to rioting in April showed major shortcomings, including a lack of planning, murky orders and flimsy protective gear, according to an independent review released on Monday.
The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) think tank report, commissioned by Baltimore police, provides solutions to lapses during protests, arson and looting sparked by the April 19 death of a black man, Freddie Gray, who died from an injury sustained in police custody.
The unrest left nearly 400 buildings damaged or destroyed and about 155 officers were injured. City officials imposed a curfew, and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan ordered in National Guard troops to restore order.
"The overall report confirmed many of our own critiques" and the department had already begun to address areas of concern, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, who was joined by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said at a news conference.
About $2 million has been spent on equipment, 1,500 officers have undergone riot training and commanders will have more autonomy to order arrests, Davis said.
During the rioting about 100 people crowded into the Watch Center, a police operations headquarters that normally held 30 or 40, the report said. The area also lacked computers.
"People who worked in the ... Center described the room as 'chaotic' and 'distracting,' and said there were many people in the room who wanted to be involved but were not vital to operations," the review said.
The department did not have an adequate plan for the unrest that began on April 25 downtown and flared two days later into rioting in much of the city, the analysis said.
Officers lacked direction about when they should carry out arrests and who could order them. Orders were unclear, with patrol officers telling PERF that they were told "not to engage" or "stand by."
Some officers interpreted those orders as meaning "stand down." Others said they heard orders to "hold the line," the review said.
Officers lacked adequate training and equipment, such as advanced riot gear and working gas masks. "BPD helmets and shields were not sturdy enough, cracking when they were hit by rocks thrown by rioters," it said.
Violence has risen in Baltimore since the riots. Homicides have reached 300 for the year, the worst since 1999.
Six officers have been charged in Gray's death. The first trial is scheduled to start on Nov. 30.
Reporting by Ian Simpson and Donna Owens; Editing by Alan Crosby and Richard Chang