Police Review Commission supports restricting use of tear gas, other crowd-control techniques

Rachael Garner/Staff

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Commissioners discussed recent police force against protesters during Wednesday’s Police Review Commission meeting and resolved to urge City Council to restrict use of tear gas, certain baton strikes and nonlethal projectiles.

The commission unanimously passed a number of proposals related to crowd-control techniques. Alison Bernstein, vice chair of the commission, said the commission’s ultimate proposal to City Council was to suspend the use of tear gas until the commission has an opportunity to conduct a complete investigation and to suspend the use of over-the-shoulder baton strikes and projectiles until the commission has an opportunity to review the policy.

No representatives from Berkeley Police Department were present at the meeting. According to Bernstein, this was because BPD had been anticipating large protests elsewhere in the city.

The concerns came after recent protests over police brutality and grand jury rulings related to the deaths of two unarmed black men because of police force. During some demonstrations, police responded with less-than-lethal methods to disperse protesters, such as firing tear gas and rubber bullets at Saturday’s protests. Although many who protested did so peacefully, some threw rocks, bricks and other objects at officers, according to BPD spokesperson Officer Jennifer Coats.

Michael Sherman, chair of the commission, said he questioned the effectiveness of tear gas usage by the police. He noted that the use of tear gas has been counterproductive in past protests, causing so much commotion that more people entered the streets and the situation escalated.

Ben Schaub, a Berkeley resident, said during the public comment section at last night’s meeting that he was hit by a tear gas canister at one of the protests. Another Berkeley resident who spoke during public comment called police violence Saturday “absolutely horrific.”

Mayor Tom Bates postponed a City Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday night due to concerns of protesters overcrowding the building. Instead, Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington listened to a crowd of protesters who gathered on the steps of Old City Hall.

Arreguin said that the commision’s proposal is exactly what he wants City Council to consider and that he hopes to bring an item to the council regarding an independent investigation on the policies surrounding the issue.

“We need to change our policies around how we respond to large crowds and demonstrations,” he said. “(The current policies are) not consistent with our community’s values.”

The earliest that the council can review the commission’s proposal is January, according to Arreguin.

Contact Jean Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @missjeanlee.