Policy Blog – Demystifying Demilitarization
I am introducing two ordinances that seek to demilitarize our police force at the September 10th Public Safety, Courts, and Civil Service Committee meeting. One of these ordinances addresses military-grade hardware handed down from the federal government through the 1033 program (and other similar grants) and the other addresses non-targeted chemical agents that are used during some law enforcement activities.
1033 Procurement Restrictions
First, a quick summary about what the 1033 program is. In the early 90s, Congress approved the transfer of surplus military equipment to law enforcement organizations. This includes a wide range of items such as office equipment, medical supplies, fire fighting vehicles, and weapons of war. The latter is what the ordinance I have introduced addresses.
For over a decade individuals and organizations from across the political spectrum have criticized the 1033 program and the “militarization” of policing in terms of equipment, training, and culture. A few examples of the broad consensus on this issue can be seen from the Charles Koch Institute, the Project on Government Oversight , and the American Civil Liberties Union to name just a few. The end results of militarizing our police force have been an erosion of trust between the public and law enforcement (especially among communities of color), an increase in excessive force complaints, and increased maintenance and training costs for 1033 equipment all while yielding no discernable effect on officer safety or a reduction in crime.
Aurora is not a war zone, and our residents are not enemy combatants. I believe we can benefit from the supportive items offered by the 1033 program but that we should not be in possession of or seeking further grants for weapons of war from this program.
Chemical Weapons Prohibition
The second ordinance I am introducing deals prohibiting the use of/requiring divestment from non-targeted chemical agents, specifically tear gas and OC spray “foggers”.
In recent years the wide-spread utilization of tear gas across the world has created growing concern that the substance is an abortifacient and may have other unexpected health impacts, though no clinical trials have been conducted in the United States due to the ethical violations such a trial would entail. That said, the volume of reports of health impacts from the United States and abroad are extremely concerning and contribute to my belief that a civilian law enforcement agency should not be using this substance.
The fact that tear gas is non-targeted is another reason I am bringing this forward. I live in an apartment complex where APD had a stand-off for several hours outside of the unit of where a suspect was thought to reside. It turns out the suspect wasn’t there, but during the incident APD gassed the suspect’s unit, which impacted the occupants of the neighboring units with the effects of the gas. Thankfully Chief Wilson offered to pay for the cleaning of the units of those impacted by the gas (which is currently not required by law) but the fact that this could have impacted someone with COVID, asthma, or some other medical condition that would have been exacerbated by exposure to tear gas is a major cause for concern.
The non-targeted aspect of tear gas is also why I am proposing to ban the use of OC spray foggers in this ordinance. The liberal use of foggers at the violin vigil impacted a young woman (I am told she was 15) as well as one of our Ward IV neighbors who were near the police line but complying with the orders to move back. Again, innocent people who were complying with orders were subject to extreme pain, temporary blindness, burning throughout the sinuses, due to the non-targeted nature of delivery. The misters later caught a 9News photographer who was documenting the events of that evening in their area of effect. I inquired about these incidents during the special meeting that followed that weekend’s events and the response that I received can be summarized as “collateral damage happens.” I find that response to be unacceptable and that it serves to further undermine faith in our institutions.
It is for these reasons that I believe we must prohibit the use of and divest from tear gas and OC spray foggers. That said, I am of the opinion that OC spray is a legitimate less-lethal tool for law enforcement to utilize in a targeted fashion which is why the proposed ordinance leaves individual-sized OC spray devices untouched.
With studies showing that militarization has not had the desired effect on crime or public trust, with concerns about law enforcement tactics and technology encroaching on our civil liberties, and continuing to justify reactive and ineffective approaches to addressing public safety, I believe it is in the best interest of Aurorans to prohibit the procurement of and require divestment from weapons of war from the 1033 program (and similar programs), and to eliminate the use of hazardous, non-targeted substances and remove them from our arsenal.
This is an opportunity for Aurora to lead the nation in protecting civil liberties and rebuilding public trust in our institutions by implementing data-driven public policy, and I am proud to bring both of these ordinances forward for consideration.