Less than a half hour before the annual Brooklyn Day block party fractured into a chaotic shooting, a Baltimore Police district commander warned Southern District supervisors to monitor, but not intervene with a crowd that had grown to nearly 1,000 people, out of a fear that officers might “get drawn in and become a target.”
It was an ill-fated instruction that hinted at an attitude of indifference, one that had been building throughout the day in the Southern District, according to a 100-page report released by the Baltimore Police Department on Wednesday that reviewed the agency’s response to the shooting.
At several points in the hours prior to the mass shooting, high-ranking supervisors and patrol officers alike took a hands-off approach to the crowd, choosing not to intervene or request more units, even as 911 calls from citizens grew more frequent and more desperate.
Nearly two months after the South Baltimore shooting, the report filled in the details on the Police Department’s response the event, which acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley has described as inadequate. As a whole, the document highlights just how disconnected the agency is from residents in certain overlooked parts of the city.
That disconnect played a critical role in the Police Department’s lack of preparation for and its decision not to intervene in the Brooklyn Day event. By shortly after 12:30 a.m. on July 2, the block party turned tragic. A crowd of hundreds became caught in a shooting, with more than a dozen guns being fired, sending people scattering in all directions.
Two of the partygoers were killed in the gunfire. An 18-year-old woman, Aaliyah Gonzalez, was pronounced dead at the scene. A young man, Kylis Fagbemi, 20, died at an area hospital. Twenty-eight others were wounded.
Within days of the shooting, Worley directed the department’s Performance Review Board, which examines “critical incidents” and applies the lessons to make recommendations for improvement, to conduct a comprehensive review of the police response to one of the worst mass shootings in the city’s history. Among the report’s key takeaways:
- The Police Department’s reluctance to engage the growing Brooklyn Day crowd was more likely driven by indifference from both supervisors and patrol officers as opposed to low staffing levels. Shifts were running short earlier in the day, and calls for service were stacking up, but the Southern District was fully staffed when the shooting actually took place.
- Mismanagement by high-ranking supervisors was another key factor. There were “several dozen discretionary officers” available from other parts of the city that could have been deployed to the event, but they were never requested by shift commanders even as a police helicopter observed that the crowd had grown to nearly 1,000 people.
- For nearly six hours leading up to the shooting, officers on the ground should have been well aware of the developing crowd. Police were told by 911 callers about the event directly around 7 p.m., with a caller stating “It’s Brooklyn Day.” Earlier in the day, police operated surveillance cameras and observed the party being set up, as well as the crowd filtering in, and officers responded to a call within blocks of the growing crowd.
- Key police officers showed little to no concern for public safety in the Brooklyn Homes community until after the shooting. At 9:41 p.m., the Police Department received a call for “hundreds” of people armed with guns and knives, to which an officer responded that they should “redirect that call to the National Guard.” A dispatcher later indicated that no units in the district were available for new calls for service.
- Brooklyn Homes is one of the busiest patrol areas of the city, but the Police Department has not developed relationships there. It relies instead on formal associations with community groups. Residents said that they felt neglected by police and opined that the Police Department would have never let a crowd grow to that size in whiter, wealthier parts of the city.
- The Police Department failed to capture meaningful intelligence about the party. Its social media monitoring unit captured a post about the July 1 Brooklyn Day event several days in advance, but the posting was scant on information. The social media monitoring wing then shut down for the weekend, which left no one working on the day of the event, when posts likely would have been flagged.
- Discipline is likely to come for some Southern District supervisors. The report concluded that the sergeants and lieutenants “gave very little consideration to the potential public safety concerns of having a crowd size of 800 to 900 people without sufficient police presence.” Worley has recently said that those who fell short that night would be “held responsible.”
‘It’s Brooklyn Day.’ How did police miss the party?
One of the looming questions about the Brooklyn Day tragedy was how the Police Department was apparently caught so off guard by what is an annual block party. That is only partially answered by the report.
Around 1 p.m. on June 28, a supervisor in the Police Department’s Open Source Unit, which monitors social media, contacted the Southern District intelligence officer to let him know about a posting that referred to “Brooklyn Saturday.”
But the post was “described as quickly disappearing from the author’s social media page and was unable to be located again,” according to the report, which concluded that the supervisor notified the right people and acted appropriately.
The intelligence wing indicated that the Brooklyn Day event was shut down by police last year due to its “large size, unpermitted nature and indefinite endpoint,” causing “attendees and organizers to be particularly upset.”
“It is believed that this likely affected whether BPD would receive notification and how the event was advertised,” the report concluded.
The Brooklyn Day event varies by date and weekend every year, and the usual organizers of the event were not responsible for planning Brooklyn Day this year, the report further stated.
And yet, members of the Police Department’s Equity Office were able to retrieve two flyers about the event from residents. One of them was distributed by hand on Brooklyn Day, and the other was posted on Instagram about one month prior.
“Both residents believed that these flyers were easily accessible and stated that the police deliberately chose to ignore them,” the report said.
Beyond having advance notice, it remains unclear why police weren’t paying attention to the crowd gathering in Brooklyn Homes in real time. Throughout the day on July 1, the Police Department had visuals on the Brooklyn Day party being set up.
CitiWatch surveillance cameras captured a U-Haul truck arriving to deliver tables around 8:10 a.m. At 11:10 a.m., a city camera recorded a tow truck dropping off a snowball vendor. Someone manually operated the camera around 12:24 p.m., apparently observing crowd activity, the report found.
That same day, around 10 a.m., a supervisor had posted a message in an internal police chat acknowledging a much smaller cookout in Westport, saying there was “only a small crowd” and “no issues to speak of,” according to the report.
“The posting confirms that supervisors were making and documenting observations of events throughout the district that day,” the report said. “But no observations were made regarding Brooklyn Day.”
Just after the official start of the party at 5 p.m., a Police Department vehicle was on the scene, as documented by surveillance cameras, though it’s unclear from the report how long it remained there. At around 7 p.m., a crowd had formed, with some lining up to interact with horses that had been brought to event.
Around the same time, there were some signs of less peaceful celebrations. A caller notified police that two vehicles were driving recklessly at the location.
“It’s Brooklyn Day,” the caller told police, though that comment was not read out to the responding officer by a dispatcher. The report noted, however, that the information would have been available in the form of a note attached to the call text on the officer’s mobile data terminal.
Over the next two hours, the crowd started to grow considerably.
Despite all of the warning signs and police responding to calls near the growing crowd all day, a patrol shift supervisor appeared to blame neighborhood residents for the Police Department’s lack of preparation for the event, according to the report.
At around 10:30 p.m., two hours before the shooting, the supervisor wrote a message on Evertel, a mobile app used by police to share information.
“Just a heads up for midnight shift. Looks like the citizens of Brooklyn snuck in ‘Brooklyn Day’ on us,” they said. “There are roughly 800-900 people in the homes.”
‘We are not going into that crowd’
As the sun was setting and the day gave way to night, the crowd at the Brooklyn Day grew well into the hundreds.
When night fell, surveillance cameras began capturing fireworks being set off in the crowd, prompting people to run at times. Just before 10 p.m., the police received a call that “hundreds of males and females are armed with guns and knives” at Brooklyn Homes, prompting an officer to respond: “We might have to redirect that call to the National Guard then.”
A dispatcher later noted that the district was “10-12,” meaning that no units in the Southern District were available to respond to new calls for service.
As the crowd intensified, a shift supervisor responded to a supervisor that he understood there was a large party with a crowd nearing 1,000 people.
“Yeah, we are not going into that crowd,” the supervisor told the dispatcher, then calling out “David No,” which means no police services are required, in response to the armed person call, according to the report. The report refers to police members by rank and position, but not by name.
But calls kept coming in, including multiple reports about firearms being discharged. One Baltimore Police Explorer is seen around 10:30 p.m. on surveillance footage, “which is believed to be occupied by more than one supervisor, one of whom is visible in the driver’s seat,” the report said.
It was around this time that the police helicopter unit, Foxtrot, flew over the crowd and observed nearly 1,000 people, some of them setting off fireworks. When asked whether anything “looked suspicious,” Foxtrot responded that many fireworks were being set off, but “everything appears to be normal right now. They’re just walking around, hanging out.”
As police pulled back from engaging the crowd, it continued to grow from the hour of 11 p.m. to midnight, when Foxtrot returned to perform another flyover. The pilot noted that the crowd was “densely packed together” and observed for about three minutes.
Around midnight, the Southern District commander remarked via text message that “Brooklyn Homes surprised us with their community party tonight” and “we had no idea they planned this.” Ten minutes later, he wrote a message to the Southern posts in a Police Department chatroom: “Monitor only don’t get drawn in and become a target.”
The supervisor below him acknowledged receiving the message.
Staff shortages, overtime and calls for service
After the Brooklyn Day shooting, the police union — Baltimore City Lodge No. 3 Fraternal Order of Police — called attention to staff shortages in order to explain the lack of response to the growing event by officers.
But the report found that Adam shift, which runs from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., was fully staffed in the Southern District on the night of the shooting.
“There were seven officers scheduled to work their regular shift, but additional officers were either drafted or authorized for voluntary overtime to ensure a full complement of 13 officers was working in the Southern District at the start of the Adam shift,” the report found.
But that’s not to say staffing played no role in how police responded to the event.
Though the shifts were fully staffed, the Police Department had to draft two officers to staff the Charlie shift prior to 11 p.m. During that shift, the “volume of calls for service increased significantly from the earlier shift.” There were a total of 163 calls for the district, the report found.
As the shift started, there were six calls pending from the prior Baker shift, but none of them were high priority, the report found. But as the night wore on, the district was unavailable to answer all the calls coming in. There were 10 pending calls, including two high-priority calls, according to the report.
At around 10:15 p.m., the midnight shift dispatcher requested units to respond to one of them: an armed person call in the 800 block of Gretna Court, where the shooting would later take place. Two supervisors went to respond to the call, and the first police communication was made regarding a large crowd at the scene.
The midnight shift also started with several calls pending, as surveillance cameras became trained on the massive crowd at Brooklyn Homes, reporting various incidents of crowds scattering.
By the time of the shooting, the calls would be flooding in, about 43 of them in total.
“According to radio transmissions, patrol officers were advising they were on scene within four minutes of the initial call dispatched,” the report found. “The immediately began to request additional assistance for the crowd while providing locations of victims and specific injuries.”