Boston Police Unions Challenge Rules on Use of Force

Boston Police Unions Challenge Rules on Use of Force

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Two police unions in Boston want to roll back limits on when they can use tear gas, pepper spray and other less-than-lethal crowd control methods, which the City Council implemented last year.

The two unions are asking a judge to rule on whether the City Council ordinance is valid and enforceable, and also on the validity of an independent board to probe allegations of police misconduct created in January. The Boston Police Superior Officers Federation and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society filed the suit Monday in Suffolk County Superior Court.

The ordinance came about after Boston police were criticized for some of their crowd control measures during a June 2020 protest, amid nationwide demonstrations sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

The unions say the use-of-force rules are based on politics and put public safety at risk.

“By eliminating our officers’ ability to use less than lethal force, City Council themselves are forcing escalation of incidents with their irresponsible and poorly researched policies,” the unions said in a statement.

The ordinance puts limits on — but does not eliminate — the use of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds by law enforcement agents operating in Boston.

Instead, under the ordinance, an on-scene police supervisor of the rank of deputy superintendent or higher must personally witness ongoing violence or property destruction and determine there are no reasonable methods of de-escalation that could succeed. The same supervisor must give two separate warnings at least two minutes apart announcing the group must disperse, saying which weapon will be used and ensuring the group has a way to exit.

Mayor Michelle Wu, City Council President Ed Flynn and Boston Police Department Superintendent-in-Chief Gregory Long are named as defendants. A spokesperson for the mayor said the city had no comment.

Wu last week named a new police commissioner, but he’s not taking over until next month.

The police unions’ suit also asks the court to rule on the validity of the city’s Office of Police Accountability and Transparency, which was created in December 2020 and allows citizens with complaints against police officers to appeal to an oversight panel, even if the police department’s own internal affairs unit determines the complaint is unfounded.

The lawsuit contends that under state law, city law enforcement policy decisions rest with the commissioner, and there are legal precedents for courts declaring city council-imposed rules to be invalid.

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