Baltimore police released footage from police body cameras that show officers shooting a suspect. Police officials viewed the public release as a new step toward transparency to win back residents who have lost faith in the department after multiple incidents of a men dying or being injured in police custody, including Freddie Gray, whose death in April 2015 from injuries sustained in a police van launched the city into weeks of unrest. While the footage might raise questions about officers’ use-of-force in the shooting, it also dramatically displays the realities of what police face routinely and it gives the public their perspective of volatile situations as they unfold. “It’s our responsibility, we believe very strongly, to identify critical incidents like this, especially when deadly force was used and share it with the community,” Baltimore police Commissioner Kevin Davis said. “We believe it’s making us better as an agency. We believe it’s improving police community relationships and accountability.”
The incident shown in the body camera footage unfolded Friday morning in North Baltimore when a woman called 911 from her car describing a man weilding knives while yelling at people and beating on a pole and the sidewalk. Officers arrived to the 3300 block of Greenmount Avenue, where they found a man in a leather jacket, pants and adidas shoes – pacing outside a fried chicken carryout and the Boulevard Theater and ranting. He carried two green knives that had “MARINE” written on the handles, and he kept yelling incoherent statements. Five officers arrived, including two who were equipped with body cameras. Both turned them on as they stepped out of their patrol cars and approached the suspect.
The footage captures a chest-level view from the officers, and as they raise their weapons and point them at the suspect, both of their hands and weapons are in the forefront of the video. Repeatedly, police can be heard telling the man to drop his weapons. Police spokesman TJ Smith said the man was told 10 times to drop the knives. The man can be heard saying “I have one life to live and I’m ready to give it.” As police moved in, one of the officers with a body camera raised his Taser, warned the suspect he was about to fire and does so. At about the same time, gunshots rang out from other officers, who missed the suspect. It was not clear if the Taser struck him, but the blasts did nothing to stop him and he continued to pace.
A few seconds after officers again told him to drop his weapons, they fired multiple gunshots and the man fell down bleeding on the sidewalk outside the theater. Officers cuffed the man’s hands and began administering resuscitation.”Keep breathing buddy,” they could be heard saying as an officer repeatedly conducted chest compressions and asked for a mask to blow air into the man’s air passages. The man, who was shot multiple times, remains at an area hospital in stable condition, police said. Police have equipped about 600 officers with cameras since May after the city approved spending $11.6 million over five years to issue all officers with cameras by 2018.
The cameras allow the department to more accurately record what takes place during police shootings and other incidents, police said. Researchers say they give the public more transparency when officers’ accounts are questioned and also act as a reminder for officers to follow procedures and stay within the bounds of law. Across the Baltimore region, departments including Laurel and Baltimore County are testing or buying the cameras as police officers face intense scrutiny in the wake of several high-profile shootings of unarmed men over the past three years.
Last week, Davis told city council members at a Public Safety Committee meeting that overall complaints against officers have decreased by 20 percent this year, from 729 last year to 584. Complaints about officers using unnecesary force are also down 38 percent, from 135 to 84. Davis said 19 officers have been fired or are in the process of getting fired this year after being found in violation of department policies. Lawsuits against the department for civil rights violations are at a five-year low, the commissioner said.