SPD Chief Best authorized non-SWAT officers to use tear gas on May 31

New documents requested by SCC Insight and released by SPD provide details surrounding the authorization for non-SPD officers to use CS tear gas, and show that it was authorized by the Chief of Police herself due to a concern over depletion of other crowd-control equipment.

Following the events of the evening of Friday May 30,  Assistant Chief of Patrol Operations Tom Mahaffey and Captain Matt Allen sent a written request to Chief Carmen Best on May 31 asking for authorization to deploy CS tear gas and 40-mm launchers to patrol officers who are trained and certified. Under normal circumstances, only SPD’s SWAT officers are trained, certified and authorized to deploy tear gas.

The request states that the reason for the request was because the events of the night before had depleted SPD’s stock of “less-lethal munitions, including blast balls and OC spray.”

Due to these equipment shortages, should it become necessary under the circumstances, Patrol proposes to utilize CS canisters to disperse crowds in a manner otherwise consistent with Policy 8.300-POL 5, governing the use of OC spray. Because this policy does not specific [sic] address CS canisters, authorization is required.

Of note: the authorization request states that the policy for OC pepper spray will be the one used to govern patrol officers’ use of tear gas, since as the OPA, OIG and CPC have pointed out, there is no policy governing the use of tear gas in the SPD policy manual. It also notes the risks, including “the potential for individuals in the crowd to pick up the bringing canisters and throw them back at the police, deeper into a crowd, or into vehicles.” It says that using 40-mm launchers during crowd-management events — which normally only SWAT officers are authorized to use — “provides a less lethal option for targeted intervention,” though doesn’t explain the reasoning for that assertion.

The use of tear gas was requested for “14 days or until Patrol determines that it has sufficient standard issue less-lethal devices on hand to manage events such as took place last evening, if earlier.”

Chief Best’s signature is affixed to the request, indicating her approval of the authorization.

Best’s subsequent order on Friday, June 5, rescinding the authorization, notes that “Patrol has received what it believes to be sufficient additional supply of standard issue crowd management tools” and asked for the authorization for tear gas to be rescinded.

These orders raise several additional questions:

  • How many Patrol officers were actually issued tear-gas and 40-mm launchers, were they certified and trained, and how many of them actually deployed it during the period where it was authorized?
  • When did SPD receive replacement stock for their other “less lethal” crowd-management devices, and how much time passed between then and when the authorization was rescinded?
  • Did anyone consider whether the policy for deployment of OC pepper spray was the correct one to govern the use of tear gas? Were other policies considered? Were outside experts or any of the three police accountability bodies consulted on that decision?
  • Did Chief Best make the decision to authorize the use of tear gas on her own, or did she consult with the Mayor, any council members, or any of the police accountability bodies before making the decision?

I have asked SPD for answers to these questions and will update this article with any responses I receive.

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One comment

  1. I want to commend the Seattle PD for releasing these critical documents within days, not weeks.

    I have a very important public records request before Sound Transit and expect a response in 4-6 weeks.

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