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SLCPD formally bans use of chokeholds and tear gas

Posted at 12:42 PM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 21:06:45-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — Police will formally ban the use of chokeholds and tear gas on crowds in a new policy sent to the city council.

The ban came less than a day after Police Chief Mike Brown was questioned about use of force tactics by members of the Salt Lake City Council. While officers did not use either technique, Chief Brown said official police policy did not explicitly prohibit it. So he revised the policy Wednesday.

“While it wasn’t something that was taught and it wasn’t part of our culture, it wasn’t something that we had explicitly written down in our policies, so we felt it was important to do that,” SLCPD Detective Greg Wilking told FOX 13. “If you are, by omission, leaving stuff out some people would think it was acceptable and we wanted to clear that up.”

A copy of the new policy was provided to FOX 13 by the Salt Lake City Police Department.

"The use of carotid control holds, restraints, or techniques are not authorized, and officers shall not attempt to render an individual unconscious through the use of bi-lateral carotid artery restriction. Officers are strictly prohibited from applying choke holds or direct force to the mouth, neck, or throat that will intentionally compress the airway or restrict an individual's ability to breathe unless the officer reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury or death to the officer or other person(s)," the policy now states.

On tear gas, Chief Brown said it was only allowed by the SWAT team. That policy remains in place.

"Tear gas may be used against barricaded suspects based on the circumstances. The use of tear gas on crowds is prohibited. Only the Watch Commander, Incident Commander, or SWAT Commander may authorize the delivery and use of tear gas, and only after evaluating all conditions known at the time and determining that such force reasonably appears justified and necessary," the policy states. "The SWAT Unit maintains the Department's inventory of tear gas, as well as the specifications for the tear gas authorized for use. When practicable, fire personnel should be alerted or summoned to the scene prior to the deployment of tear gas to control any fires and to assist in providing medical aid or gas evacuation if needed."

The policy updates were announced in a meeting with the Salt Lake City Council where ongoing funding for the police department was discussed. Daily protests have called for "defunding the police." By that, activists say, they mean shifting some money from law enforcement to other underfunded community resources including mental health, housing and even street repair.

“By having Chief Brown say, no we need a policy change so this doesn’t happen -- is very important to actually solidify that and especially to make sure it’s a legal, like marble pillar, to make sure it isn’t something that other officers can use as an excuse,” said Salt Lake Equal Rights Movement (SLERM) core organizer, Francisco Meza.

Wilking echoed Meza’s sentiment and expressed willingness on behalf of the department to listen to community concerns.

“You can’t hear each other when you’re yelling, there’s no dialogue there’s no exchange of ideas, you have to come together you have to talk,” Wilking said.

“Were trying to listen to everybody, we’re trying to be fair, trying to be equitable, we understand the frustrations that people are out there on the streets complaining about and we want to make things better,” Wilking continued. “Right now, everything is so divisive and it seems like we’re trying to split into factions, we want to bring people together, we want to heal the community.”

According to SLERM, the changes are a positive step. However, they intend to continue protesting until the department has been defunded and reformed.

“The fact that there is actually policy reform happening, that is a step showing that there will actually be reform because of our protests, because they’re listening to us,” Meza said.

Det. Wilking said as of now, they do not foresee any more immediate changes being made to their policies.

The Salt Lake City Council has elected to hold off on voting for a budget to take more public comment from residents. City council members have told FOX 13 they would also "hold" some money allocated to police to ensure reforms are enacted.

Read the policy here.