Washington, DC – City council members in the nation’s capital want to know why the city has purchased more than $100,000 in tear gas and other less-lethal crowd control devices as they debate on Thursday whether to extend the emergency ban on those items.
The DC City Council passed a controversial emergency police reform bill on June 9 after complaints about the Metropolitan Police Department’s handling of violent activists during riots at the beginning of the month.
The measure, among other things, bans police from using chokeholds and prohibits the department from buying any equipment from the federal government or using rubber projectiles, tear gas, stun grenades, or riot gear when they are trying to disperse rioters, NPR reported.
Students from American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop requested public records on the police department’s supply purchases and learned that the DC police had ordered another $130,000 in less-lethal munitions and training materials between June 1 and June 5, WUSA reported.
Purchases orders showed the city paid Atlantic Tactical for munitions and irritants that had already been banned in the city council’s emergency order.
The order was enacted for 90 days and the DC City Council planned to discuss extending the ban on the less-lethal crowd control munitions at their Oct. 15 meeting, WUSA reported.
DC police defended their purchase as precautionary in a written statement.
“The June purchase reflects both the increased occurrence of rioting so far this year as well as general preparations for possible civil disturbance for the rest of the year. The Department is committed to working to safeguard the city during riots by having available to officers less-lethal tools to deploy to disperse rioters,” the police department told WUSA.
In other words, the unpredictability of civil unrest makes it a good idea for DC police to be prepared to handle whatever may come their way as the hotly-contested election approaches after anti-Trump activists vowed to burn the nation’s capital if the President is re-elected.
Some city council members were not upset to hear the police had stocked up on tear gas again, WUSA reported.
DC City Council Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chair Charles Allen said he was okay with using tear gas against white supremacists, but not peaceful protesters.
“Let’s say, for example, that we have a white supremacist rally that comes in and they turn violent and they start attacking people,” Allen told WUSA. “What type of tools would we want MPD to be able to use to be able to respond to that? Those are questions that warrant a hearing.”
The Police Tribune reached out to Allen to ask him to further explain how he planned to identify which protesters were the white supremacists during a riot and why it was okay to gas one group of violent protesters but not another, but had not received comments at publication time.
The paperwork obtained by the student reporters showed DC police ordered OC natural tear gas “Skat Shells” that were identical to what was used by federal officers at H & 17th Street in June, WUSA reported.
Police also ordered CS artificial tear gas Skat Shells and “Spede-Heat,” both of which were found on the ground after the riots.
Those munitions are deployed by launchers that cause a larger impact and have farther range, WUSA reported.
Purchase orders also showed that DC police have stocked up on stinger ball grenades that are designed to deploy rubber pellets and CS gas into crowds.
The DC police is already being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for their role in helping clear city streets on June 1, WUSA reported.
The police department has said that it did not participate in federal police actions the day violent protesters faced off with law enforcement in front of the White House.