Use of unloaded guns in Baltimore Police training drill under investigation

Baltimore police are investigating a training drill where officers used their unloaded service weapons, a violation of new safety protocols put into place three months ago following the accidental shooting of a trainee.

No one was hurt during the drill. Deputy Commissioner John Skinner, who is in charge of police operations, said the officers were using unloaded service weapons instead of training guns that do not have firing pins, which he called a “critical kind of safety error.” It occurred Tuesday at Camp Fretterd, a National Guard installation in Reisterstown, where police were conducting room-clearing exercises, Skinner said.

Among the reforms police instituted after a University of Maryland campus police officer was injured after being shot in the head with a live round on Feb. 12, was using authorized locations, having a proper ratio of students to instructors and using training equipment.

In this case, Camp Fretterd was an authorized training location that law enforcement agencies often use. The session included a correct ratio of students to instructors: Six detectives assigned to the department’s Criminal Investigations Division and it was administered by four training officers from the Mobile Training Unit, which is run through the Special Operations Section and not the training academy, Skinner said.

But the officers should have been using training guns with red handles that have their firing pins removed, not their service weapons, even if they were unloaded.

“This was one of the major issues that we changed,” he said. “Clearly it’s a violation of the safety protocols we had set up.”

Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez, who oversees the department’s Bureau of Professional Standards which includes the police academy and most in-house training, said the instructors on Tuesday followed old police training guidelines for the type of training the detectives were undergoing. The old guidelines allowed officers to use their weapons as long as they were unloaded.

Though police promised transparency and accountability in that case, few details about what went wrong in the February shooting have been released and Rodriguez said police have so far been unable to pursue administrative actions against those involved due to the pending criminal case.

Rodriguez and Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, both transplants from California, have said they are frustrated with regulations in place that delay their ability to quickly pursue remedies. “Where I came from, we were not bound by some of those same sanctions,” Rodriguez said Thursday.

But he said commanders were able to diagnose the problems at the academy sufficiently enough to make changes and restore training activities.

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