Threats to police

None of 23 cases were tied to shootings, according to data provided by department

March 10, 2009|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,

When Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III was summoned to City Hall to explain his policy to withhold the identities of officers who shoot or kill citizens, he noted 23 threats against officers last year as evidence that releasing the names represented a possible safety risk.

But none of the threats deemed "significant" by police in the past two years was related to an officer-involved shooting, according to documentation the department produced yesterday after a request by The Baltimore Sun. One threat was made by a city officer and directed at a colleague.

The disclosure about the nature of the threats comes one day after a man shot by police Friday died of his injuries. He was the seventh person shot by Baltimore police this year and fourth who died. Police have not disclosed the name of the officer who shot him, but The Sun has identified him as Jemell Rayam. He has been involved in two other shootings in the past three years that were each ruled justified.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said yesterday that police never meant to imply that the 23 threats were related to police shootings. He said they were noted as part of an argument that the increasing availability of private information on the Internet puts officers at risk and that the department wants to be proactive.

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said the statistic "should have been characterized more appropriately" and that Rawlings-Blake remains "concerned about perceptions of a lack of transparency with the Police Department."

Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young, chairman of the council's public safety committee, said he, too, thought the statistic meant that 23 officers had been targeted after being involved in shootings.

"I'm concerned about the safety of the officers, but if this policy was put in place because [of the threats] and now they're saying that's not what they meant, I question why it was adopted in the first place," Young said.

According to Guglielmi, police investigated 23 threats last year that were considered "credible," with nine of those classified as "significant." Of those nine, six came as police officers made arrests. The others included a destruction-of-property incident involving an officer's private vehicle, a threat made to an officer in court and another in which a city officer made a threat against another officer.

In 2007, police received 11 "significant" threats, six of which came during arrests. Three were anonymous but gave specific times and locations at which officers would be harmed. Two came from gang members.

The policy change, formally adopted by police in January but informally in use for months before that, has brought criticism from some elected leaders, the American Civil Liberties Union and others, though it has the backing of the city police union. Police have noted that the policy is similar to those used by the FBI and police departments in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Atlanta. Guglielmi said yesterday that the officers' names are "inconsequential" given the other information police have pledged to provide.

Police said yesterday that the man killed in Friday's police-involved shooting was 30-year-old Shawn Cannady of the 2800 block of W. Garrison Ave. Police said he was the driver of a car that sped at officers and struck one during a drug investigation in Northwest Baltimore. Cannady, who had a record of drug convictions, was pronounced dead at 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

A passenger in the car was arrested, questioned and released without charges being filed, police said.

Police said the officer who shot Cannady has been involved in two previous shootings since joining the agency in 2005, including a similar incident in October 2007 when he flagged down a vehicle for a traffic stop and was dragged when the man pulled away. The man was hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening and was later convicted of assault.

In a June 2007 incident, Rayam was among three officers shot at as they investigated suspected drug activity in the Barclay neighborhood. He returned fire, striking the man in the thigh and ankle. Rayam suffered a graze wound to his toe. Police ruled both previous shootings to have been justified.

He is on routine administrative duties pending an investigation into the Friday shooting.

Baltimore Sun reporter Melissa Harris contributed to this article.

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