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City Council Committee Votes Down ‘Non-Lethal’ Weapon Ban

Richmond Police Deploying Tear Gas
Richmond Police deployed tear gas against protesters multiple times over the summer, as one of several "less than lethal" crowd control measures. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Richmond City Council’s Public Safety Committee voted down a proposal to ban the use of so-called ‘non-lethal’ weapons on protesters.

The proposal from council members Stephanie Lynch and Michael Jones would have prevented Richmond Police from using things like tear gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators. Clashes between police and protesters that resulted in the use of chemical agents were common this summer. Two council members on the three-person committee, Reva Trammell and Kim Gray, voted to strike the ordinance.

Gray, who is running for mayor in November, has previously voiced concerns about tying the hands of law enforcement.

“If this [resolution] moves forward, we remove non-lethal options from the arsenal that police have, and we go straight to hands-on contact and/or lethal intervention,” Gray said. “I think it’s incumbent on us to get as much information to understand what the options are.”

Three public speakers at the committee voiced similar concerns.

Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith asked the committee back in July to continue the ordinance for 60 days while the department worked out new guidelines for the use of less-lethal weapons.  On Tuesday, Smith provided highlights from a draft of the new policy, which include requirements that less-lethal weapons only be used when “reasonable and necessary” and that they not be used on “non-aggressive” protesters, pregnant women or “the infirm.”

“At the very minimum, three dispersal orders will be given and following those dispersal orders a reasonable amount of time will be given for anyone who would like to leave will be given that opportunity as well,” Smith said.

The full text of the draft order has not been released. Smith said he will be taking the draft policy to an external advisory committee for review.

Council Member Stephanie Lynch was a sponsor of the ban and also voted to pass it at Tuesday’s meeting. Lynch told her colleagues that she appreciated the work Smith had put into creating a written policy on use of less-lethal weapons, but said she believes tear gas and rubber bullets should never be used on residents.

The Public Safety Committee’s ‘recommendation to strike’ means that, unless supporters of the ban can get five council members to override it at the next meeting, the ordinance is dead.

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