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Boston mayor to sign measure limiting police use of tear gas

BOSTON (AP) — Acting Boston Mayor Kim Janey is planning to sign a proposed city ordinance next week that would put limits on how police use tear gas and other crowd-control techniques.

The measure, approved Wednesday by the Boston City Council on a 7-5 vote, would restrict the use of chemical crowd control agents and kinetic impact projectiles by law enforcement agents operating in Boston.

Specifically, the measure would require a supervisor to approve their use and give warnings in advance. The new proposed rules would apply to individuals engaging in protests, demonstration, or gathering with more than 10 people.

The proposal specifies the limits would apply to tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds.

A similar initiative was approved by the council last year by a 8-5 vote, but was rejected by former Mayor Marty Walsh. Janey, who was city council president at the time, voted in favor of the measure. Walsh resigned last month to become President Joe Biden’s labor secretary and as city council president, Janey became acting mayor.

Janey is planning to sign the ordinance early next week, according to an aide.

Two city councilors who voted in favor of the measure — Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu — are running for mayor in the fall election. Another councilor running for mayor — Annissa Essaibi George — voted against the measure. Janey is also running for mayor.

“This demilitarization ordinance is a necessary piece of our collective action to ensure transparency and accountability in our policing,” said Campbell, who refiled the proposal with Councilor Ricardo Arroyo. Campbell said she supports a full ban on tear gas and rubber bullets.

Under the proposed ordinance, an on-scene police supervisor of the rank of deputy superintendent or higher must personally witness ongoing violence or property destruction and determine there are no reasonable methods of de-escalation that could succeed.

The same supervisor must give two separate warnings at least two minutes apart announcing the group must disperse, saying which weapon will be used and ensuring the group has a way to exit.

The proposed ordinance would also require the Boston Police Department to preserve body camera footage when the measures are used.

Boston isn’t alone. Somerville has passed a ban on the use of tear gas and have made other chemical crowd control agents a last resort weapons and put conditions on when they can be used by police.

During the past year, at least 36 states — including Massachusetts — have signed into law measures that would change some police practices, according to a review of data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The new laws come from at least 1,800 police reform bills filed in statehouses across the U.S. since George Floyd’s killing, with the majority being introduced this year. The proposals include statewide bans on chokeholds, limits on no-knock warrants and restrictions on the use of tear gas and other crowd-control techniques.

In December, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a police accountability bill that created a civilian-led commission with the power to certify officers, investigate claims of misconduct and revoke the certification of officers for certain violations.

The law also bans the use of chokeholds, bars officers from shooting into a fleeing vehicles unless doing so is necessary to prevent imminent harm and limits the use of so called no-knock warrants.

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