A Police Executive Research Forum report on how police departments responded to thousands of protests in the summer of 2020 urges clearer guidelines on the use of less-lethal weapons like tear gas and bean-bag guns, the Associated Press reports. Based on interviews with police chiefs, reviews of after-action reports and an analysis of intelligence and other police reports, the PERF study recommends improving training, avoiding mass arrests, improving communications within police forces and with communities during demonstrations, and conducting robust reviews after large-scale protests.
During the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, protesters and others reported serious injuries after police used less-lethal weapons on crowds, including broken bones, traumatic brain injuries and temporary blindness after being struck by projectiles fired by officers. Police officers across the country were also injured when they were hit by bottles, rocks, bricks and cans of soup that were hurled at them in crowds. The report also notes that even so-called soft projectiles “can cause serious or even fatal injuries, and can be difficult to target.” Tear gas has commonly been used as a defensive tool by law enforcement to make rioters disperse. But during the nationwide protests in 2020, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies sometimes used it offensively and in some cases directed it at large crowds with peaceful protesters, as opposed to those committing violence. “All of those kinds of things, pepper spray, CS gas, bean-bag rounds, rubber bullets, in many cases, departments had not used that kind of equipment in some time,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. “And the key part of it is, in the after-action reports, significant concern about how and when the police deployed these less-lethal weapons.” The full text of the report, "Rethinking the Police Response to Mass Demonstrations: 9 Recommendations," is available here.