Consultant: Raleigh police need better policies on using force, tear gas on crowds
Posted November 10, 2020 5:37 a.m. EST
Updated November 11, 2020 1:06 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — An outside consultant hired by the Raleigh City Council to review police actions during violent protests last spring said the Raleigh Police Department needs more specific policies on the use of force on crowds, including when and how to deploy tear gas.
Sean Smoot, a partner with 21CP, said the recommendations "should not be interpreted as indictments," saying Raleigh has "a darn good police department."
In the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, protests calling for racial justice and police accountability spread to communities nationwide. Marches in Raleigh on May 30 and May 31 turned violent, with buildings and vehicles damaged, stores looted and fires set.
Some protesters threw rocks, frozen water bottles and chunks of concrete at police, and officers responded by deploying tear gas and firing foam bullets into the crowds to disperse people. At least 14 officers were injured in the riots, and more than 100 people were arrested. Raleigh police said they responded to dozens of burglaries and countless reports of arson and property damage.
After Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin enacted a citywide curfew, several days of peaceful protests followed as people across the city came together to begin to repair the damage.
Months later, however, some downtown businesses are still boarded up.
"None of us want that to happen again. That was one of the worst weekends ever," Baldwin said Tuesday. "Let’s face it, that night, we were not prepared. But we have had protests here like every week for years. Nobody was expecting the type of protest that took place that night."
In September, Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown presented the findings of the department's internal review of the incidents, acknowledging miscommunication between protesters and police led to the use of tear gas on one occasion.
21CP reviewed much of that video, as well as video from security cameras, footage people posted on social media and video gathered by news organizations in compiling its report. The consultants also interviewed dozens of people, including police officers and community representatives.
Some people have criticized police for being too aggressive in going after protesters, while others said they weren't aggressive enough, especially in terms of preventing property damage.
Other recommendations made by 21CP include improved policies on body cams – some officers didn't have them on during the riots because the cameras aren't supposed to be used during peaceful protests – better planning by managers and training for officers and more community engagement before, during and after such events to become more aware about people's concerns and reduce the likelihood of violence.
Baldwin said the goal of the reviews is create better policies going forward.
"It’s all about doing better; it’s all about improving. But it’s also about looking at what we did right and congratulating our officers for what they did," she said. "We are really looking forward to changing the narrative, bringing people back downtown, getting things rolling again and reviving our downtown. ... I know it’s going to take hard work, but part of that is ensuring that our police department is well trained, that they know and understand the crowd control issues."
Deck-Brown said she looks forward to reviewing the report's findings and providing follow-up information to city leaders.
"The Raleigh Police Department has a well-established record of continually striving to improve the service it provides to the city, and the 21CP Solutions report will be carefully considered by the department in that spirit," she said in a statement.
Between May 30 and June 7, area law enforcement agencies spent $2.2 million dollars responding the protests. The Raleigh Police Department alone spent more than $1.4 million.
City staff were given until Dec. 11 to provide an update to the City Council on when and how the recommendations will be implemented.