Berkeley police request use of pepper spray days before Ben Shapiro event

City of Berkeley Agenda/Courtesy

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Berkeley Police Department is asking the city for permission to use pepper spray ahead of conservative writer Ben Shapiro’s speech and Milo Yiannopoulos’s Free Speech Week at UC Berkeley.

According to a report BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood submitted to City Council, the council established an interim policy for BPD’s use of pepper spray in 1997. The policy, called General Order U-2, stated that BPD will not use pepper spray for crowd control situations. In the report, however, Greenwood requested that the policy be changed.

“Pepper spray is a law enforcement industry standard tool that is used by virtually every major police agency in the United States,” Greenwood said in the report. “Currently the Berkeley Police Department is hampered during crowd events in addressing coordinated groups of violent offenders because the only tools available are batons, less lethal projectiles, smoke, and tear gas canisters. The prohibition of pepper spray as a force option limits the Police Department’s ability to respond effectively to acts of violent attacks and to protect those engaged in lawful First Amendment Activities.”

In the report, Greenwood said a pepper spray aerosol dispenser would allow officers to use “a direct, limited application of force to repel specific attackers,” whereas tear gas canisters release a cloud of chemical irritation into a larger area that could harm peaceful protesters or uninvolved community members.

He added that all BPD officers have been trained on the “proper application, target areas, medical response and reporting requirements” associated with pepper spray. He emphasized that when officers use pepper spray, a “use of force” report is submitted and then sent to the council, which helps hold the department accountable to the community.

BPD has faced criticism in the past for excessive force, most notably in the case of Kayla Moore, a transgendered Black woman who died in custody, and the December 2014 Black Lives Matter protests.

Greenwood cited examples of past protests in the report, including the Milo Yiannopoulos protest Feb. 1, as well as the “alt-right” rallies that took place March 4, April 15 and Aug. 27.

“Over this year, Berkeley has been the focus of an unprecedented effort to be made a battleground for extremist groups,” Greenwood said in the report. “There has been a recent increase in violence and criminal behavior by extremist groups across the nation who have targeted First Amendment activities — events that the Berkeley Police Department is committed to protecting.”

He said that at each of the protests, “extremists” showed up armed with shields, which render less-lethal projectile weapons ineffective. He added, however, that pepper spray would be “markedly more effective,” since shields don’t provide full protection against chemical irritants.

In the report, Greenwood proposed that General Order U-2 be amended to specify that pepper spray should not be directed against peaceful, nonviolent individuals. The amendment would also include that officers should not use pepper spray to disperse or move a crowd.

“Officers deploying pepper spray in a crowd situation shall attempt to limit collateral exposure to non-involved parties,” Greenwood said in the report. “Where there is probable cause to arrest for a crime, officers shall prioritize where practical the arrest of individuals upon whom pepper spray has been deployed.”

The item will be discussed at the council’s next special meeting Sept. 12.

Chantelle Lee is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ChantelleHLee.