Fox News source: Baltimore's mayor ordered the police to stand down

In a segment yesterday, Bill Hemmer said a Fox News producer told him that when he asked Baltimore cops why they weren’t more aggressive in confronting the brick-tossers on Monday, the response was “Talk to the mayor.”

Is this what they meant?

Despite a firm denial by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a senior law enforcement source charges that she gave an order for police to stand down as riots broke out Monday night, raising more questions about whether some of the violence and looting could have been prevented. 

The source, who is involved in the enforcement efforts, confirmed to Fox News there was a direct order from the mayor to her police chief Monday night, effectively tying the hands of officers as they were pelted with rocks and bottles. 

Asked directly if the mayor was the one who gave that order, the source said: “You are God damn right it was.”

I think Ed’s right that Rawlings-Blake’s instantly infamous comment about giving the protesters space to “destroy” things was a legit misspeak, a brain far in the course of a rambling answer where she probably meant space to “demonstrate.” But once that comment took off, perceptions of her as soft on the rioters were irresistible. The idea of her giving a stand-down order to the cops plays right into that. And the truth is, she was softer on them she should have been: Even if you assume, a la Ed, that she meant space to demonstrate, John Sexton asks a good question in wondering why she was still so focused on preserving that space after the protests had already turned violent.

Back to Fox’s source, though. Were the cops overwhelmed because Rawlings-Blake told them to back off, deciding that the city was better off with a few businesses smashed and looted than with another potential police brutality incident after Freddie Gray? Or were the cops overwhelmed because they were quickly outnumbered by rioters?

By 3:30 p.m., the kids were throwing bottles and bricks at police officers. They were ordered to disperse, but the violence escalated as officers were injured. By 4:30 they were setting fires and making their way downtown. The police were unable to stop them. “I was there. I saw our reaction. I gave directions to advance,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said. “They just outnumbered us and they outflanked us.”

The officers at Mondawmin Mall were too small a group to properly handle the crowd, experts say. There were enough officers at the mall to hold a line and some property, but not enough to penetrate the crowd and make arrests, says Neill Franklin, who oversaw Baltimore police training from 2000 to 2004. “You’ve got to have enough boots on the ground,” said Franklin. “Without that, there’s nothing you can do. You’ll be overwhelmed very quickly.” Also important for policing is a deep familiarity with surrounding streets and alleys. In order to secure an area, Franklin said, police should know all the access and exit points where protestors can approach from…

“The moment the first bottle or the first rock is thrown first, or the first officer is assaulted, action has to be taken,” said Jon Shane, associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “And it has to be swift, and it has to be firm.” Much of the crowd had already moved downtown by the time enough police had arrived to make arrests.

It may have been the fact that the brick-throwing started among a group of high-school kids, not a group of adults, that led the police to be passive. “When we deployed our officers yesterday, we were deploying for a high school event,” one officer told the media yesterday. They got caught by surprise, whether by the hostility they encountered, the sheer numbers of kids rampaging, or both. If you believe Time, no stand-down order was needed. On the other hand, a stand-down order would jibe with the fact that Rawlings-Blake apparently waited several hours while the riots expanded before formally requesting National Guard help from the governor. Her strategy in the first flush of confrontation on Monday may have been to wait it out, hold the cops back, and hope that the rioting burned itself out quickly, before a heavier state response was needed. If so, given that there’d already been violence over the weekend, that was awfully stupid.