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Madison alders want to ban police use of tear gas in resolution

The proposal was introduced at Tuesday's meeting
Published: Jul. 14, 2020 at 9:38 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - In the aftermath of unrest and amid a pandemic, three Madison alders want to ban police use of tear gas.

The proposal was introduced in Tuesday’s Common Council meeting. The resolution not only calls for MPD to abandon tear gas use but also study the ways it has been used in the last 20 years, in order to seek alternatives. It is co-sponsored by Alders Patrick Heck (District 2), Shiva Bidar (District 5) and Keith Furman (District 19).

Ahead of the meeting, Alder Heck explained to NBC15, “I think that the primary motivation was the recognition that tear gas itself has been banned for almost a century by the UN Geneva Protocol and also by the Chemical Weapon Convention in 1993.”

But Alder Heck added that more “immediate” causes for introducing the resolution included local unrest in late May-early June.

In one instance, on May 30, Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl wrote on his blog that a group of about 150 people damaged property along State Street. He wrote, “Chemical agents were utilized as officers attempted to move the crowd from the area.”

Chief Wahl said to NBC15 on Wednesday that he supports the part of the resolution that seeks a study of tear gas use. Over the last 50 years, he said that MPD has used tear gas to control crowds-- at most-- four times, with deescalation being the goal every time.

He added, the tear gas ban should not precede the study, explaining, “To me, having the foregone conclusion of what the decision will be regardless of what the facts are is not a good way to do public policy.”

Exploring what consequences there may be with such a ban he said, “We have a very limited number of tools, whether it’s crowd-control context or tactical context, that we have available to us, and most of them are much more likely to cause injury or to have bad outcomes than chemical agents are. If you take one of those low-level tools away from us, then you’re going to make the likelihood higher that we’re going to have to use some of those other options.”

Alder Heck also said that the idea for this resolution came amid health concerns, for fears that that tear gas could “exacerbate COVID-19.”

The American Thoracic Society called tear gas use during the pandemic “irresponsible.” In a press release, ATS president Juan C. Celedón, MD, DrPH, ATSF wrote, “The use of chemical crowd control agents is outlawed in the time of war. They cause significant short- and long-term respiratory health injury and likely propagate the spread of viral illnesses, including COVID-19.”

Now, the measure must pass through several committees before coming back to the Council. Alder Heck said he believes the Council will vote in early September.

If passed, the resolution would end tear gas use starting November 17. According to Alder Heck, the date allows for approximately a month between the study’s due date and enactment.

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