“After hearing concerns about the use of CS gas for crowd control purposes earlier this week ... we decided we were going to suspend its use for 30 days,” Police Chief Carmen Best said.
The leaders suspended the gas until watchdog groups and oversight officials can fully review and recommend changes to policies and training for use of the chemical agent. Local health officials expressed concerns over use of tear gas and other respiratory irritants in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The ban only applies to tear gas-- not flash-bang grenades, pepper spray and other crowd-control techniques-- but Seattle’s female African American police chief said that “everything will be reviewed.”
“It’s really important we’re looking at every aspect of force and how we’re utilizing it,” the chief said, according to The Seattle Times. “We’ll review everything we’re utilizing.”
The review is to be conducted by the city’s civilian-led police accountability groups and federal oversight officials, along with input from public health officials and outside experts, Best and Mayor Jenny Durkan said.
“This review should better emphasize de-escalation tactics and incorporate recommendations from our accountability partners on the use of any crowd control techniques, including the use of tear gas and flash-bangs,” Durkan said.
Seattle police turned to tear gas last Saturday as protesting became more aggressive and the department had nearly depleted its supply of pepper spray and blast balls. Best added that other forms of crowd control were not “proving effective at that time.”
“Other options on that day for crowd control, such as blast balls and OC spray, simply were not proving effective at that time,” she said. “And because of the magnitude of the event, we experienced a near depletion of the supply of those tools. Accordingly, SPD temporarily authorized the use of CS in order to prevent further destruction.”
Before that, Best said tear gas had not been used since the 1999 World Trade Organization protests.
Last Saturday’s protests were the biggest and most violent, with several police cars set on fire, two AR-15 police rifles temporarily stolen and widespread looting of downtown businesses.
Earlier this week, the police chief ordered officers to make their badge numbers visible after criticism of officers reportedly wearing mourning bands over their badge numbers.
Before the tear gas ban, the city’s Community Police Commission, the Office of Police Accountability and the Office of Inspector General for Public Safety issued a joint recommendation asking “the Seattle Police Department to cease the use of CS gas in response to First Amendment activity, until such time as any appropriate use can be vetted by oversight entities and incorporated into a written SPD policy.”
“That policy should include sufficient safeguards so that CS gas is only used, if at all, in a manner that keeps faith with the public trust,” according to a memorandum sent to Durkan, Best, City Attorney Pete Holmes and the City Council.
Durkan praised Best and her department for working with community activists as protests wore on, moving police lines further back from demonstrators and improving communications with the crowds.
Still, some threw objects at police and Thursday night two officers were injured.
“We have to meet peace with peace, and last night, in the face of the rocks, bottles, and projectiles your police officers demonstrated restraint and they didn’t use any force,” the chief said.