Virginia committee opposes ban on some rally control tactics

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A city council committee in Virginia's capital has voted against a proposal that would ban police from using crowd control tactics such as rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and tear gas on demonstrators, as law enforcement has during recent protests against racial injustice.

The proposal is still set to come before the full Richmond City Council next month.

Two committee members opposed recommending it, citing the city’s new police chief and a task force appointed by the mayor that is currently pursuing crowd control reforms, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Council members Michael Jones and Stephanie Lynch sponsored the resolution and Lynch said during the meeting that there were “more effective means for deterring” demonstrators who may become violent or engage in illegal activity than using chemical agents or weapons, according to the newspaper.

"We need to send a message to our residents that this is no longer a practice we’ll engage in,” she added.

Police have repeatedly used control equipment on protests deemed unlawful, dangerous or past curfew, including in a clash where officers launched tear gas toward a group of protesters who appeared to be yards away and peacefully gathered near the monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee ahead of an 8 p.m. curfew.

Richmond Police later said the actions were “outside department protocols" and pulled multiple officers from the field. A group has filed a federal lawsuit over the encounter.

Council members Kim Gray, Reva Trammell and several public speakers expressed concerns that limiting police power in this way could lead to property damage and injuries, though Gray noted she was interested in hearing other options.

“I haven’t heard any alternatives being suggested,” Gray said, adding: “At this point my recommendation would be to strike this legislation.”

Police Chief Gerald Smith told the council subcommittee that a new department policy under review would direct officers to give crowds multiple warnings before using nonlethal weapons, which would only be used on groups that “show aggression.”