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Crime & Justiceby Fern Shen11:31 pmDec 3, 20140

Mayor on defensive about body cameras, on offensive about The Brew

After locking horns with Steiner over excessive force by police, Rawlings-Blake launches critique of this website

Above: Rawlings-Blake addresses the media in August at a news conference at City Hall.

Speaking on 88.9FM WEAA today, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake defended her veto of the City Council’s police body camera bill, saying she supports the concept but thinks the bill was flawed.

Asked by host Marc Steiner what she meant when she says “we have to get it right” about body cameras, the mayor said that “a rush to implement costs the taxpayers money.” The bill also failed to address privacy concerns.

“I joked with a friend of mine, depending on what day of the week it was, I wouldn’t call a cop to come in my home. You’d have to step over laundry and this, that and the other thing,” she said, going on to make her point with another example.

“It is just like with a 911 call. Right? It’s public information. Is it public information? Can anyone have access? If I had to call the police for something and now they’re looking in my house. And god forbid, what if I were a battered woman and that tape could be on YouTube or whatever for the rest of my life. Is that what we want to do with women who are suffering from domestic violence? We have to make sure we’re getting it right. And what about the storage concerns?”

Rawlings-Blake was referring to the costs and logistical problems associated with saving the footage shot by cameras on police in other jurisdictions where they’ve been required.

“Not My Context!”

What about other approaches to decreasing the use of excessive force by police, Steiner asked, in particular, strengthening the city’s toothless Civilian Review Board to something more like the one in Toronto?

By way of answer, the mayor spoke about the positive effect of her administration’s “increased training,” how she tells police academy trainees at graduations time to treat members of the public “as you would want your mother, your sister” to be treated, how excessive force complaints are down and “we are trending in the right direction.”

Steiner reminded her he was asking about her position on strengthening the Civilian Review Board.

“No, no no. I’m getting there,” she said. “I just want to put your question–.”

Steiner jumped in. “In your context,” he said.

“Not MY context,” she shot back. “THE context.”

Resuming her reply, she said, “The Civilian Review Board is something I’ve talked about, looking at a model that has some more teeth. The Toronto model is something I’m sure that we’ll consider.”

Asked by caller, “Tia,” if she has specific plans to review and possibly change the board, the mayor said that “it’s something that we are reviewing as we speak” and promised that her public safety team is “taking a look at doing an analysis.”

Should the board, Steiner asked, have the power to subpoena, indict and dismiss?

Before answering, Rawlings-Blake said, “I would like to wait until I see the report.”

Blasted for Claim We Never Made

The temperature over the airwaves seemed to rise toward the end of her segment during exchanges between the mayor and Steiner over Tyrone West and Anthony Anderson, who died in encounters with Baltimore police.

Then talk turned to the subject of Monday night’s City Council hearing about water privatization – and the mayoral heat turned onto The Brew.

Steiner said they were out of time and would talk about the subject someday in another show, but the mayor wanted to discuss it now. She again repeated what she has been saying for months, that the city has no intention of privatizing Baltimore’s water service.

A Brew story about that Council hearing quoted at length from a mayoral cabinet member who further underlined the administration’s position: “Chow says city has no plans to privatize its water system.”

As other media have reported, the Boston-based Corporate Accountability International has been charging for months that privatization is the hidden impetus behind a contract to improve efficiency at the Bureau of Water and Wastewater.

The group, the Brew story noted, “has held protests in front of City Hall and conducted a campaign among local media to attract attention to what it sees as an attempt by Veolia to win” the contract.

Steiner pressed the mayor further, saying, “Why Veolia?” Rawlings-Blake said the company has not yet been selected by her officials.

“What do you mean, ‘Why Veolia?’” she replied, asking him where he got the idea that the French company was to win the award.

“Conversations people have had with Veolia off the record,” Steiner said. Rawlings-Blake said it never came from her administration.

“Not from your administration – from The Brew, from other journalists in the city,” Steiner said, misstating our reporting, which has never gotten into the Veolia-privatization angle other than to state what Corporate Accountability charged at Monday’s Council hearing.

“What they [The Brew] have ferreted,” the mayor declared, “is speculation.”

This sent her on a denunciation of another story where The Brew actually did report, based on sources, that a contract was set to go to another bidder: “Politically-wired firm wants $100 million more for city contract than competitor.

Based on weeks of reporting, document review and interviews with well-placed sources (and over the course of many stories), we explained how the Columbia firm, Dynis LLC, and Grant Capital Management, the mayor’s top 2011 campaign contributor, stood to gain from the award of a “smart water meter” contract. Our sources told us that Dynis, whose bid was fully $100 million higher than the next qualified bidder, was in line to get the contract.

Likening our coverage on Dynis to the single story on Monday’s hearing, Rawlings-Blake said, “This is not the first time The Brew did this.”

She characterized these stories as “based on nothing” and “spreading a rumor.”

When the water meter contract ultimately did not go to Dynis – or as Rawlings-Blake put it, “when we did what we were going to do all along” – “The Brew took credit for that.”

We stand by our reporting.

As for the decision late today that Veolia will not be getting the $500,000 water efficiency contract, she can rest assured we’re not taking any credit for it.

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