New RPD Chief says officers lacked non-lethal weapons training, promises new policies

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Despite a push by protesters and some city council members, tear gas and rubber bullets can still be deployed by Richmond Police officers.

This comes after Richmond City Council’s Public Safety Committee delayed a vote on a resolution that would ban the use of non- lethal weapons on protesters.

RELATED: Richmond city council delaying vote on resolution to ban tear gas

At Tuesday’s virtual public safety meeting, Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith voiced his disapproval of the proposed ban, saying that the use of tear gas and rubber bullets is necessary for extreme situations. He listed Saturday’s riots as an example of that. The ban, however, would not include pepper spray.

While Smith defended the use of non-lethal weapons, he says that before assuming the role of chief, officers lacked training.

“I believe that we can get better at using these types of munitions and tools and resources,” Smith said. “I think that the training that we’re talking about needs to go a little bit higher in the ranks at RPD.”

Smith added that sometimes officers not at the protests were making the call of when chemical agents should be deployed.

“The decision making point was too far down into the rank,” he stated.

RELATED: New video, new angle of tear-gas incident involving RPD, protesters

Moving forward, Chief Smith promises new written policies and procedures.

“To actually have trained command staff there on scene that actually makes the call, as to when and just not when, but how and how much is used when you have these types of situations,” Smith said. During the meeting, Smith said it’s a policy he has already put in place unofficially but will write it out for the city leaders to read and respond.

During public comments at the public safety meeting, one person summed up the thoughts of many when it comes to the deployment of chemical agents.

“Frankly, I don’t even know why we’re debating whether or not to use a chemical agent that attacks the respiratory system in the middle of a pandemic that affects the respiratory system,” the person said.

Jimmie Lee Jarvis told 8News he’s been at almost all of the demonstrations and filmed while there. He spoke during Tuesday’s public comment section and 8News caught up with him on Wednesday.

“I have seen and experienced police deploying pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper balls and other less-lethal projectiles against largely peaceful protesters, crowds of people, indiscriminately,” he told 8News reporter Alex Thorson.

8News asked if he’s damaged any property like some have throughout the last few months.

“I’ve never committed any property damage or vandalism of any sort,” he answered. “Whether or not that’s a legitimate thing to do, I will not say one way or the other, but I have not participated one way or another.”

He adds that he was hoping for a different outcome from the Richmond City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

“If [officers] haven’t been trained in the proper use of these weapons, then they shouldn’t have these weapons,” he said. “I hope that the General Assembly in its special session coming up will take up some statewide reforms that will stop the use of these weapons.”

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