At a meeting last October, the Madison Common Council rejected a proposed ban on tear gas. Instead, alders ordered the Madison Police Department (MPD) to conduct an internal review on their historical use of the chemical suppressant, and to research and recommend alternative methods for crowd control and de-escalation.
The report was released in January, and finally came before the Council at their March 2nd meeting, where after a series of failed attempts to accept or reject the results, the Council voted to place the report on file — essentially shelving the issue.
That decision comes after the Public Safety Review Committee, or PSRC, recommended that the Council place the report on file at their meeting in mid-February.
Speaking to the PSRC last month, Madison City Attorney Mike Haas said that placing the report on file would be a “neutral” option.
“I think it’s been seen as a neutral statement that ‘we’re not going to do anything with the report, we’re not going to agree or disagree with any of the conclusions or recommendations, the report is done and we are placing it into the figurative file’,” Haas said.
The report, which was conducted internally by MPD, covers their use of tear gas from 1990 to August 1st, 2020. Notably, that excludes any tear gas deployed during protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake in late August.
The report also outlines alternatives to tear gas for de-escalating situations. Regarding crowd control, they list alternative strategies authorized by other police departments, but find that they are “much more likely to result in injury and additional confrontation,” than tear gas.
In addition to conducting their own report, MPD is waiting for the results of an independent assessment of their response to the unrest in Madison on the weekend of May 30th, 2020.
Data surrounding MPD’s response to those protests is being analyzed by the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Quattrone Center. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, they expect the report to be available sometime this summer.
In both the Council and the PSRC, there was extensive debate between members about waiting to decide on concrete steps until the Quattrone Center’s report is finished.
Speaking at the March 2nd Common Council meeting, Alder Patrick Heck said that the results of the MPD report are not subject to change, so the Quattrone Center’s conclusions are irrelevant to the Council’s next steps.
“The reality is that next week an alder can propose an ordinance change or a resolution related to tear gas. Nobody has to wait for this report, or anybody that it gets referred to, to complete any work. It could happen tomorrow,” Heck said.
Back in October, the alders opted to wait on MPD’s internal report to decide whether or not to ban the chemical weapon. In the five months since that initial failed proposal to ban tear gas in Madison, the Common Council has yet to take any further steps to regulate the use of chemical weapons by the MPD.