Baltimore officers outfitted with new riot gear

Posted at 8:01 PM, Sep 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-14 20:01:37-04

If you look at video from April 25 and Monday the 27, you will see Baltimore Police Officers with just old standard issue helmets and insufficient shields along with a lack of non-lethal tools like pepper spray to quell the menacing crowds.

The Baltimore Police Department hadn't seen unrest like this since the 1960s, and it showed.

"Shockingly the eighth largest police department in America had to borrow less lethal tools from surrounding jurisdictions so that will never happen again…I think if we had the appropriate less lethal tools on Monday, April 27 at Mondawmin Mall, you wouldn’t have seen that happen the way it happened," said Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.

The inability to quash the riots or be prepared for them was evident in just what the department was ordering on the fly in the first days of the unrest.

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ABC2 News obtained the emergency purchase orders back in June showing nearly two million dollars in better helmets, shields and gas masks starting on April 25.

"We had deplorable equipment and we had inadequate training so the big push since last May has been to get the equipment and get the training done as quickly as humanly possible," Davis said.             

ABC2 saw some of that Monday.

At the police training facility on West Northern Parkway, Baltimore Police showed us what is now standard issue gear for its officers including sturdier helmets, protective gear on torso, legs, arms and even a gas mask.

It is equipment instructor and Detective Robert Himes says gives him and other officers a boost in confidence since last spring.

"Oh absolutely. Absolutely. The confidence of the officers that come through our training is above reproach. They love having this style training with this style of equipment and feel they can protect the citizens of Baltimore with this gear."

Police say about 90 percent of the department has been trained and outfitted with this new and improved gear.

Himes says it takes about a half hour to teach an officer how to put it on and take it off, but in addition to new protection, the department also had many officers go through civil disturbance training and mobile field force training; arrest teams armed with non-lethal tools like pepper spray, much like what was seen in the latter days of the unrest.

Interim Commissioner Kevin Davis said he wanted all of the training complete by the end of August, a goal he says the department has reached.

"The community does not expect citizens to get hurt, 168 cops to go to shock trauma, business owners to be dragged from their corner stores and beaten and pharmacies to be set on fire, police cars to be set on fire. That is unacceptable to that is never gonna happen again."

The other thing Davis said the department lacked in trying to quash the riots was experience.

He said the BPD made the mistake of thinking it could handle the unrest because of its success handling large crowds like at Preakness, Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve but they are two entirely different scenarios and that his officers now have experience, up to date equipment and training.

The Baltimore Police Department does not have a total amount spent on outfitting its force with the new equipment but plans to release that information by the end of the week.

BPD also says it will continue civil disturbance and field force training for it officers in the future.