A mural depicting Freddie Gray is seen past blighted row homes in Baltimore at the intersection where Gray was arrested. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
The Baltimore Police Department on June 29 updated its use of force policy to mandate that officers immediately render aid if someone in custody complains of an injury a year after an arrestee suffered a critical spinal injury in a police van but was initially denied medical treatment.
The new policy provides a complete overhaul of the old, which included very little information about what constitutes appropriate use of force. Instead, the policy largely focused on how to document incidents with supervisors.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis began the process of overhauling the policy last fall, after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man from West Baltimore, died a week after his neck was broken in the back of a police transport van. Six officers have been charged in his death and two acquitted. A third will be retried after a mistrial in December.
At least twice during the 45-minute wagon ride from the site of his arrest to the police station where he arrived unconscious, Gray indicated that he wanted to go to a hospital, but the officers never called a medic because they did not believe he was really injured, but simply trying to avoid going to jail. The new policy leaves no wiggle room: If a prisoner says he is injured even if he shows no signs of distress, officers must take him to a hospital.
The updated version, which is 14 pages rather than just six, includes sections on de-escalation tactics, and mandates that officers immediately render aid if someone is injured in police custody or complains of an injury.
The department’s use of force policy is among many departmental updates to be rolled out this year, including bodyworn cameras and the launch of a new online platform that will ensure all officers read and understand general orders as they are issued and updated.
According to the new rules, which will go into effect across the department July 1, officers must attempt to de-escalate a potentially violent situation before using force, if possible, employing tactics that include verbal persuasion and warnings. Additionally, the new policy specifies that officers may use force only if it is objectively reasonable, necessary and proportional to the circumstances.
Unlike the previous policy, the new guideline instructs officers when they aren’t permitted to use such force: if a person’s actions only threaten property or themselves. The policy also prohibits chokeholds and requires officers to step in and prevent unnecessary or excessive uses of force by other officers.