Seattle CPC, OPA, OIG Release Recommendation that SPD Cease Use of Tear Gas, Due to Novel Coronavirus Concerns

by Carolyn Bick

The Seattle Community Police Commission, Office of Police Accountability, and Office of Inspector General have released a joint recommendation that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) stop using tear gas, due to the extra dangers it poses in light of the current novel coronavirus pandemic.

Using tear gas — also known as CS gas — is illegal in warfare. The Chemical Weapons Convention has explicitly banned its use, the statement read, and it should not be used by officers who do not have training in such severe use-of-force tools. Moreover, “infectious disease experts have warned police departments around the country against using tear gas, which causes people to cough and can make the body more susceptible to infection, only helping to spread the coronavirus during this pandemic,” the statement read.

The statement also cited Public Health of Seattle and King County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Jeffrey Duchin’s tweet from the evening of June 4, which read, “Seattle & King Co opposes the use of tear gas and other respiratory irritants based on the potential to increase COVID-19 spread.”

While the suspension of the SPD’s use of tear gas was not the only recommendation the letter made — it also recommended the SPD stop using blast balls, for protestors’ safety — it said that the use of tear gas was the most immediate threat to protestors.

The Emerald had in the early evening of June 4 sent a question to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office asking if she will reframe the use of tear gas as a public health issue, due to its ability to cause serious long-term respiratory damage, as cited in a ProPublica article that was published the same day. The Emerald is still awaiting a response, and will update this story, as more information becomes available.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and here.

Featured image from the Emerald archives, 2016.