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SALT LAKE CITY — In light of growing calls for police reform, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown has revised his department’s policy on some use-of-force methods.
Salt Lake police officers are now explicitly forbidden from using chokeholds or tear gas as a form of crowd control, and new guidelines are in place for using less lethal rounds.
City leaders have been under pressure from members of the public to “defund” the police department by $30 million. During a work meeting on Tuesday, Brown was grilled by City Council members about his department's current de-escalation practices and use-of-force tactics.
While chokeholds and rubber bullets are techniques not used by Salt Lake police, Brown also acknowledged those items are not explicitly banned in the city’s police policy. He said he would present a revised policy to council members by their next meeting on Thursday.
But just hours after Brown met with council members, the Salt Lake Police Department released its updated policy manual with revisions to section 302, “Control Devices and Techniques.”
Under the subsection for tear gas, the old policy stated that “tear gas may be used for crowd control, crowd dispersal or against barricaded suspects based on the circumstances.” While Brown said his department never used it for crowd control, the new policy now only states that tear gas “may be used against barricaded suspects based on the circumstances.”
The revised policy also states that only the SWAT unit can maintain the department's inventory of tear gas, whereas before the Public Order Unit also had access to it.
The new policy also includes a section for “less lethal shotgun guidelines.” Salt Lake police detective Greg Wilking said the department has not used rubber bullets since the 2002 Winter Olympics. The less lethal guidelines in this section are for bean bag munitions, he said.
“Only officers who have successfully completed department-approved training in the use of the less lethal shotgun are authorized to carry and use the device,” the revised manual states.
Appropriate uses of less lethal rounds, according to the revised policy, include: if a suspect is armed; if the suspect has made threats to harm others or commit self-harm; if the suspect is “engaged in riotous behavior or is throwing rocks, bottles or other dangerous projectiles at people and/or officers;” or if “there is probable cause to believe that the suspect has already committed a crime of violence and is refusing to comply with lawful orders.”
Officers are also advised to consider how far away the target is and the trajectory the bean bag is fired, before shooting less lethal rounds.
These are the same guidelines for officers using what are known as specialty impact munitions. Those guidelines are not changed in the updated manual. Speciality impact munitions consist of ping pong-sized balls of hard foam or plastic, Wilking said, and are not as hard as the rubber bullets. And unlike rubber bullets that are typically fired in a way that they bounce off the ground and hit indiscriminately into a crowd, foam and plastic munitions are fired directly at a person, Wilking said.
The revised manual also includes a new section on chokeholds.
“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 bilateral carotid artery restriction,” the new policy states. “Officers are strictly prohibited from applying chokeholds 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).”
Wilking said the chokehold is a technique not taught in Utah. It is not something taught by Peace Officer Standards and Training, the group that certifies all police officers in state, and is not a technique used by Salt Lake police.
Guidelines for using OC spray, batons and Tasers were not charged in the new policy.