less lethal munitions

City Council Votes to Ban Police Use of ‘Less Lethal' Munitions

The legislation was created in response to testimonies from residents and demonstrators who took part in or witnessed the George Floyd protests in the city back on May 31 and June 1.

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What to Know

  • Philadelphia’s City Council voted to ban the police use of “less lethal” munitions in response to demonstrations and other activity protected by the first amendment, officials announced Thursday. 
  • The legislation was created in response to testimonies from residents and demonstrators who took part in or witnessed the George Floyd protests in the city back on May 31 and June 1.
  • During council hearings earlier in the month, 38 West Philadelphia residents and demonstrators who were on I-676 said they suffered harm and trauma from police who used “less lethal” munitions on them such as tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray.

Philadelphia’s City Council voted to ban the police use of “less lethal” munitions in response to demonstrations and other activity protected by the first amendment, officials announced Thursday. 

The legislation, which was introduced by Councilmember Helen Gym and co-sponsored by every member of the city’s Public Safety Committee, was created in response to testimonies from residents and demonstrators who took part in or witnessed the George Floyd protests in the city back on May 31 and June 1.

Councilmembers approved it in a 14-3 vote.

During council hearings earlier in the month, 38 West Philadelphia residents and demonstrators who marched on I-676 said they suffered harm and trauma from police who used “less lethal” munitions on them such as tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray. During their testimonies, they called for a new public safety model through a public process that prioritized the “voices and experiences of Philadelphia.”

“We chose a public process of listening, of truth telling, of accountability, driven by the voices and experiences of the people we serve,” Councilmember Gym said. 

A vote on the legislation occurred in last week’s Public Safety Committee. Philadelphia doctors described the harm tear gas caused patients while human and civil rights lawyers said they intended to file a complaint with the United Nations, calling for an investigation into the Philadelphia police department’s use of tear gas. 

“In banning the police use of less lethal munitions in response to demonstrations, we are answering the calls of our constituents,” Gym said. “This is a moment where repairing trust between our residents, public officials, and police is essential. Residential neighborhoods are not warzones. Demonstrators are not enemy combatants. This is a first step in working with our communities to build a new model for public safety that is driven by their needs and their vision for the future.”

Mayor Jim Kenney still needs to sign the legislation in order for the ban to take effect. A moratorium on the use of tear gas is also currently in place.

Law enforcement expert and retired police officer Matt Horace told NBC10 he believes the ban would take away a critical tool from officers.

"I think it's a shortsighted move on city council's part," Horace said. "I don't know how you pivot four to five thousand people from training they received for crowd and riot control for years and decades."

The councilmembers who voted "no" on the bill also had similar concerns. Gym said the police department would be in charge of building the new guidelines to match the new policy.

"We're going to have to do a lot to figure it out," she said.

NBC10 reached out to the Fraternal Order of Police for a statement but they declined to comment.

The legislation comes amid a week of protests and unrest in the city following the police shooting and killing of Walter Wallace Jr. Since Monday night, 212 people have been arrested, 57 police officers have been injured and 18 Philadelphia police and fire department vehicles have been damaged.

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