Police, Hogan defend response to Baltimore unrest

WASHINGTON — Baltimore’s police commissioner defended the city’s response to the unrest that erupted on the city’s streets Monday.

In brief comments Tuesday evening, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake focused on the business owners and residents who have been hurt by the destruction and on trying to pre-empt any more disturbances. But she did not address the timing of her decision to declare a state of emergency and to call in the National Guard.

The mayor has been criticized for not acting sooner to quell the violence. But Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who has been working with the city to direct the response and prevent more rioting, said the response was swift and that the state had been communicating with the mayor’s office during the past week to prepare for the potential for riots.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts defended his officers’ response to the initial spats of violence at a mall on the city’s northwest side saying that the people involved were just kids.

“Why didn’t you move faster? Because they’re 14-, 15-, 16-year-old kids out there,” Batts said. “They’re old enough to know better … they’re old enough to be accountable. But they’re still kids.”

Mondawmin Mall is a hub for multiple schools, and school buses daily drop off students at the mall. A social media posting had urged teens to go to the mall for a “purge,” which Batts said could be a reference to a movie about a rampage, and only increased the number of teens in the area.

Although there were more than 200 police officers at the mall, police had to take into account the age of the aggressors, he said.

But the exchanges between police and the teens quickly escalated and also attracted adults, whom police blame for the bulk of the damage to businesses and the looting. Out of about 235 people arrested, just 34 were juveniles, police said.

“I don’t think that there’s anyone in the country that would expect us to deploy automatic weapons and armored vehicles to an event with 13-, 14-, and 15-year-olds. That’s not what people expect from their police department,” said Captain Eric Kowalczyk, a Baltimore police spokesman.

As the age of the participants rose and the skirmishes with bricks turned into burning vehicles and buildings, police changed tactics, Kowalczyk said.

“I don’t want to second guess the mayor’s decisions,” Hogan said. “This was a difficult situation.”

The governor said he acted immediately upon receiving Rawlings-Blake’s request for help.

Hogan said that the National Guard had been on standby, and an executive order was written and ready should the mayor have needed additional resources.

“When the mayor called, I signed an executive order 30 seconds later. The guard was already on the way,” he said.

Hogan said he’d been communicating with Rawlings-Blake’s office all week and continues to be in regular communication with her and her office.

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