Baltimore’s acting police commissioner made a surprising admission on Monday, calling his department’s lack of presence at a large weekend gathering in South Baltimore in which 30 people were shot — two of them fatally — an intelligence failure.
Though Brooklyn Day happens every year, Richard Worley said, it takes place on different weekends. If police would have known three or four days ahead of time, he said, they could have put together an operations plan.
The intelligence officer in the Southern District, as well as social media analysts and members of the Open Source Unit, Worley added, were proactively trying to find information about the date on social media.
“We knew it was coming,” he said. “We just didn’t know when.”
But for residents on the ground and those familiar with how the police respond to large events with the potential for group violence, that explanation has been hard to fathom.
The party happens every year on the Saturday before July 4, residents said. Certain members of the Police Department are tasked specifically with monitoring large gatherings and their potential for violence, experts pointed out.
And radio communications from the Southern District indicated that the police were well aware of a massive crowd nearing 1,000 people — some of them reportedly armed — gathered at the Brooklyn Homes housing project. The department’s air unit, Foxtrot, was asked to fly overhead and reported that nothing looked “suspicious” about the crowd. Complaints about possible firearms discharging were likely fireworks, an officer in the air unit said. Most of the people, the officer observed, were “just hanging out.”
Hours later, the party morphed into a war zone, with those same people who had been enjoying the holiday weekend suddenly scrambling for their lives, climbing fences and running down alleyways, some of them hit by gunfire and leaving behind trails of blood. Many of them would drive themselves or be driven to nearby hospitals.
Two of the partygoers were killed in the gunfire. An 18-year-old woman, Aaliyah Gonzalez, was pronounced dead at the scene. Another young man, Kylis Fagbemi, 20, died at an area hospital.
Former Baltimore Police Capt. Andrew Wiman, who was once a deputy district commander in the Eastern District, said even if the department had no time to prepare, they still could have responded with additional units from other districts.
Wiman, who was speaking generally and did not have any specific knowledge of Saturday night’s events, said he couldn’t comprehend why Unit 41, the police supervisor in charge of communicating with district supervisors and reallocating resources, would not do just that once reports of a large and partially armed crowd started to trickle in.
“My panic alarm would have started ringing if the crowds approach 75 or 80 people, I would start to put districts on notice that we might have to deploy to this,” Wiman said. “I can’t imagine it getting over hundreds and hundreds of people and there’s no response to it. That’s just hard for me to imagine. I’ve never seen that before.”
At quarterly consent decree hearings, police leaders often point to staffing shortages as the single biggest challenge facing the Police Department. But in his comments at the press conference, Worley pushed back forcefully on the notion that a patrol staffing shortage played a role in the lack of response by BPD.
“We had multiple officers deployed in other locations in the city that we could have moved there,” Worley said, though he did not offer an explanation for why they didn’t.
Wiman suspected that low staffing in that district and on that shift did play a role. The Baltimore City Lodge No. 3 Fraternal Order of Police, the city’s police union, said only seven officers were scheduled to work patrol for the midnight shift in the Southern District that night. In Wiman’s view, that level of patrol staffing would leave the district “extremely shorthanded.”
“To have anything less than double-digit officers working any shift is dangerous, in my opinion,” he said.
Sgt. Mike Mancuso, president of the police union, said on Sunday that, about a decade ago, 20 officers would typically staff the midnight shift in the Southern District, where the shooting took place. These days, that number is closer to 13 or 14, he said.
Wiman, the former police captain, suggested that a combination of low staffing, a hesitancy to engage a growing crowd by patrol officers, and supervisory failures all likely played a role in the department’s lack of response to the party.
Those unexplained dynamics will be at the center of the agency’s internal inquiry into its handling of the incident, known as an “after action report.” A spokesperson said it’s unclear that the report would be made public once it is complete.
Though much has been made of BPD’s patrol staffing shortage, there has been less focus on how the agency functions from a tactical perspective.
Daniel Webster, a gun violence expert at the John Hopkins University whose research has been trumpeted by city officials, said that when it comes to inadequacies with the Baltimore Police Department’s ability to combat gun violence, he has heard before on good authority that its intelligence capacity is “incredibly weak in comparison to other major law enforcement agencies.”
“I feel like we undersell the aspect of policing that has to do with gathering intelligence and really understanding what the heck is going on on the ground,” Webster said. “If there are opportunities to get in front of it, you have to do that.”
Baltimore Banner reporters Dylan Segelbaum, Jasmine Vaughn-Hall, Clara Longo de Freitas and Cadence Quaranta contributed to this report.