Acting Mayor Kim Janey on Thursday signed an ordinance restricting police use of chemical agents and projectiles as crowd control measures, officially enacting a law that she supported last year as a city councilor but that has encountered strong resistance from police.
The council had passed the ordinance last year, with Janey serving as its president, but former mayor Martin J. Walsh vetoed it amid opposition from former police commissioner William Gross, who called it “highly inflexible.” With Walsh now the nation’s labor secretary, and Janey serving as acting mayor in his stead, the measure narrowly passed again on a 7-5 vote in April.
The ordinance limits police use of military-style weapons such as tear gas and projectiles such as sponge rounds, as well as pepper spray and rubber bullets, against people engaged in protests or gatherings of more than 10 people.
In a statement posted on Twitter Thursday, Janey said the ordinance set “reasonable restrictions.”
“When I was sworn in as mayor, I promised more accountability in policing. That includes making proactive strides toward police reform,” she said in the statement.
A picture included in the statement featured Janey alongside City Councilors Ricardo Arroyo and Andrea Campbell, two of the council’s key sponsors. Campbell, who is also running for mayor, has pushed for several police reforms in addition to the ordinance, such as creating the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency, the city’s first true independent police watchdog office.
Councilor Michelle Wu, who also supported the measure and is running for mayor, has pushed other reforms, including banning facial recognition technology. She has called for the city to explore public health strategies in policing, such as diverting 911 calls related to mental health matters to social workers, rather than police officers.
Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, also a mayoral candidate, was among the councilors who voted against the measure, and has been more moderate than her colleagues in pushing for police reforms. On Thursday she accepted the endorsement of Gross, who stepped down as commissioner in February.
The measure was proposed amid the national reckoning over policing during the last year, and it was one effort to examine police tactics, particularly in controlling crowds. Philadelphia and Seattle, among other cities nationwide, approved similar reforms curbing police use of crowd-control weapons. Somerville also passed a related law.
Boston’s ordinance states that before crowd-control weapons can be used, a police supervisor must personally witness violence or property destruction and determine that no other reasonable methods of de-escalation will be successful, officials said. It mandates that the same supervisor give two separate warnings at least two minutes apart announcing to those gathered that they must disperse and specify what weapon will be used if they don’t leave. Police must also ensure the group has a way to exit the situation.
Civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, welcomed the ordinance.
“Tear gas and rubber bullets are dangerous, indiscriminate, and intended to cause acute pain,” said Rahsaan Hall, racial justice program director at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Across the country, and here in Boston, these weapons have notably been used against protesters demanding racial justice. Restricting their use is just one part of the much larger work that must continue in order to achieve public safety for us all.”