Proposed ban on police use of tear gas postponed by Aurora public safety committee

City council approval for police acquisition of military equipment to get full council hearing

By: - September 10, 2020 5:47 pm

Aurora police form a line at City Center Park in Aurora during a protest on June 27, 2020, in response to the death of Elijah McClain at the hands of Aurora police. (Photo by John Moore)

Members of Aurora’s public safety policy committee tabled a proposal on Thursday that aimed to ban the use of tear gas by law enforcement and limit the use of pepper spray.

The ordinance, introduced by City Council members Juan Marcano, Alison Coombs and Crystal Murillo, would have directed the Aurora Police Department to implement a policy to ban the use of tear gas or other chemical agents in all situations and pepper spray during demonstrations and protests. 

“This is an issue that is causing an increased loss of legitimacy for the institution and intensifying the political climate that we’re in,” Marcano said. “I’m looking to de-escalate.”

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After a lengthy discussion, which included strong opposition from Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, committee members decided to kick the can down the road and pick up the topic again in November.

City Council member Allison Hiltz, who chairs the public safety committee, recommended that the proposal be reintroduced as a resolution instead of an ordinance. Ordinances are local laws, while resolutions are guidelines that are less legally binding. Marcano said he was open to the discussion.

Wilson spoke in opposition of the ordinance during the Thursday meeting, stressing that law enforcement officers need ways to defend themselves from a safe distance and that taking away nonlethal tools will result in the use of more aggressive tactics.

I can’t expect my officers to sit back and get set on fire.

– Aurora police chief Vanessa Williams

“It would leave us with having to go in and use force with batons,” Wilson said, adding that these methods also put law enforcement officers at a greater risk. “Using a stick to fight with someone is going to possibly break bones. And with the molotov cocktails, I can’t expect my officers to sit back and get set on fire. So lethal force would have to be utilized at that point.”

While introducing the ordinance, Marcano referenced an incident on June 27 when Aurora police officers in riot gear deployed pepper spray and smoke canisters to disperse a peaceful violin vigil in honor of Elijah McClain. McClain died days after a violent encounter with Aurora police officers in August 2019 and was suspected of no crime. 

“The response that we got from y’all was basically collateral damage happens,” Marcano said. “And I feel that, especially in this time but generally speaking, that should never really be an acceptable answer, because that kind of goes to further undermine trust and legitimacy issues.”

Jukka Pawley, at left playing violin, and others take part in a protest at City Center Park in Aurora on June 27, 2020, in response to the death of Elijah McClain at the hands of Aurora police. (Photo by John Moore)

Wilson defended her officers’ actions, saying that while the peaceful violin vigil was taking place, some protesters had knocked down a fence and were throwing rocks and bottles at officers.

“I take responsibility for not doing a great job as far as communicating to those that were there for the vigil,” Wilson said. “I just want to make it clear that we keep saying vigil and there was, yes, there were people there for a violin vigil, but we also had lawless behavior going on and many announcements were given.”

Marcano added that he is also concerned about the use of tear gas in residential areas, especially in multifamily settings where the gas can permeate into adjacent units.

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During the meeting, Aurora Division Chief Darin Parker, who oversees operations, gave a demonstration of the nonlethal tools used by the Aurora Police Department, including projectiles, chemical agents and chemical irritants. Parker stressed that APD does not use rubber bullets or pepper balls like other agencies do. 

During the meeting, committee members voted down a proposal, also introduced by Marcano, that aimed to prevent ADP from using specific military equipment obtained from the U.S. Department of Defense through the federal 1033 program. Marcano plans to rework the proposal and introduce it again later.

A proposal that would require city council approval before military equipment is acquired for police through various federal programs was recommended to the full council for further discussion.

The next committee meeting will take place on Sept. 17 at 11 a.m.

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Moe Clark
Moe Clark

Moe Clark is a freelance journalist and former Colorado Newsline reporter who covered criminal justice, housing, homelessness and other social issues.

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