Council tables bill to ban tear gas

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Albany Common Council decided to table a bill to ban tear gas after a majority of council members favored adding restrictions to the use of the chemical agent rather than an all-out ban.

“It’s a slap in the face to the entire community who is really hoping for real change,” said bill sponsor Councilwoman Judy Doesschatte.

The bill received strong support from Albany community members. Albany resident Ivy Morris was not at last summer’s protest, but her South End community, where tear gas was used, felt the impacts long after the riots were done.

“To say we were traumatized is an understatement. In the days that would follow the children and the people in our neighborhood who had breathing issues were experiencing the residual effects,” Morris said.

Ahead of the meeting, Doesschatte said she was not in favor of amendments. “The amendments water it down so much essentially that it is business as usual,” Doesschatte said.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan listed several amendments she would support. The mayor in a statement said:

“I applaud the Common Council for taking additional time to consider further amendments to Local Law C. I continue to support restrictions and controls on the use of tear gas and other non-lethal force including:

  • Restricting use to when a riot is declared, as defined by New York State law
  • Requiring a Police Chief or Deputy Chief to order its use
  • Requiring two notifications to the public in the immediate vicinity tear gas is about to be used
  • Requiring an EMT to be on-site prior to its deployment
  • Prohibiting its use in residential neighborhoods unless absolutely necessary to protect lives

I look forward to working with the Common Council to consider these restrictions in an effort to keep our community safe and address our shared desire to ensure tear gas is used only when absolutely necessary to protect against mass violence.”

In 32 years, the police department has only used tear gas twice. Both times tear gas was used happened during last summer’s riots.

“I had no issue with the police department using gas. It’s just it went well beyond where it should have gone,” said Councilman Kelly Kimbrough.

Kimbrough has also put forth amendments. A unique perspective, he serves as the chair of the public safety committee. He’s also a 22-year Albany PD veteran and is a black man.

“I’m worried about that time where things are so out of control that we need to do something,” Kimbrough said.

A date for when a new version of the bill will be brought forth is unclear.

The tear gas debate comes amid tensions between protestors and police over the use of pepper spray in an incident last week. Protestors broke a police station window threw water bottles at officers; Sheehan and Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins called it a riot.

The Albany Police Officers Union released a public statement addressed to Sheehan and Hawkins on Monday, blasting the officials for what the union called a lack of leadership. The leader reads in part: “It is noticeable clear and evident to the members of this bargaining unit that as a department we did not learn anything from the riots that unfolded last year.”

NEWS10 reached out to the mayor’s office and the police department for comment on the letter from the union, and we’re awaiting their response. Take a look at the Albany Police Officers Union statement, released in two parts and signed by union president Gregory McGhee:

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