Politics

Kim Janey signs ordinance restricting Boston police use of tear gas, rubber bullets

"When I was sworn in as Mayor, I promised more accountability in policing. That includes making proactive strides toward police reform."

Acting Mayor Kim Janey signed into law Thursday an ordinance that restricts when Boston police can use crowd control agents such as tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets — a measure vetoed by her predecessor earlier this year.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Janey said she signed the bill, which she described as placing “reasonable restrictions on the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by police.”

“When I was sworn in as Mayor, I promised more accountability in policing,” said Janey, who is running to seek a full term this fall. “That includes making proactive strides toward police reform.”

The ordinance, co-sponsored by city councilors Ricardo Arroyo and Andrea Campbell — also a candidate for mayor — prohibits Boston police from using chemical crowd control agents and kinetic impact projectiles on crowds of more than 10 people. The exception is when an on-scene police supervisor personally witnesses acts of violence or property damage, and has determined no other methods of de-escalation will be effective.

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Police must give two separate warnings at least two minutes apart over a loudspeaker before deploying them. The law also requires Boston police to maintain and preserve any body camera footage that captures officers using the weapons, and must file it with any city and state police oversight agencies within 10 business days.

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Ricardo and Campbell initially filed the ordinance last June after police used the tactics against crowds that gathered downtown on May 31 in response to George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.

The councilors highlighted the injuries — and in one local case, even death — inflicted by the past use of chemical irritants and rubber bullets, plastic bullets, and beanbag rounds.

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Victoria Snelgrove, an Emerson College student from East Bridgewater, was killed when she was hit in the eye by a pepper pellet fired by Boston police into a crowd on Lansdowne Street after the Red Sox clinched the pennant in 2004.

Chemical agents like tear gas and pepper spray are banned in warfare under the Geneva Protocol of 1925, although law enforcement in the United States is still able to use them, according to Arroyo. The chemicals can cause coughing, rashes, blurred vision, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, and disorientation, he said.

City councilors first passed the ordinance in December, but former Mayor Marty Walsh vetoed the measure in January.

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Then-Police Commissioner William Gross had criticized the bill, writing to councilors that it “sets an impossibly high burden to operationalize in real time.”

Walsh expressed other concerns, including that the regulation “interferes” with the commissioner’s authority to manage the Police Department.

Last month, councilors went through the ordinance section by section before putting it to a vote again, with Janey — who supported the bill as a councilor in December — now in the mayor’s seat.

“It is reasonable. It’s not an absolute ban,” Campbell said in early April. “It establishes, I think, or codifies what the department already says is existing policy and practice, and so if that’s the case, this for me has always been simple — that we should do this.”

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The proposal narrowly passed the council, 7-5.

“This, obviously, is not a complete ban, and I understand for some people that will be disappointing,” Arroyo said, ahead of the council vote. “But I do believe that this is something that, through consensus, will protect the residents of Boston.”

Somerville officials passed a similar ordinance last month, although that law outright bans the use of tear gas by police and puts restrictions on the use of pepper spray, projectiles, and other weapons.

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