Aurora lawmakers to float ban on “tear gas,” military equipment

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AURORA | Motivated by police responses to public demonstrations, a trio of Aurora lawmakers said Friday they want to bar Aurora police from using military equipment and indiscriminately deploying “tear gas” and pepper spray.

Councilmembers Alison Coombs, Juan Marcano and Crystal Murillo said in a joint statement they plan to introduce the measures during the city’s Public Safety, Courts & Civil Service committee Sept. 10. 

“Aurora is not a war zone, and the residents of our city are not enemy combatants,” Marcano said in a statement. “Our police department is not trained in or required to use military use-of-force guidelines, and therefore should not be equipped with weapons of war.”

Although the plans have not been introduced yet, the lawmakers issued some details Friday. 

The city-wide laws would prohibit the Aurora Police Department from participating in the 1033 program, a federal program allowing the U.S. Department of Defense to push military equipment to local law enforcement agencies for more than 20 years. The program is often criticized by activists for helping create “militarized” police forces — an argument invoked Friday by the city councilmembers. 

The lawmakers said Aurora police procured M16 rifles and a Mine-Resident Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, through the 1033 program. 

According to the Marshall Project, Aurora police received an MRAP, rifles and about $7,000 in protective gear and shields from the program. Overall, Colorado police departments have received about $25 million in equipment from the program.

“I know we received items from the 1033 program. I do not know what they are,” said Aurora Police Department spokesperson Faith Goodrich. She invited the Sentinel to file a records request to identify equipment received through the program. 

The plans would also ban police from deploying clouds of “chemical weapons” such as “tear gas.” That’s an umbrella term for chemical compounds U.S. police commonly use to disperse and subdue crowds. Large-scale pepper spray use would also be banned. 

Marcano told the Sentinel the proposed ban wouldn’t apply to individual officers’ small-scale use of the chemical products. 

He said the proposal is partially motivated by the APD response to a June 27 vigil for Elijah McClain, the 23-year old Black man who died after an encounter with APD last year. Police said they used smoke bombs and hand-held tanks of pepper spray to disperse the crowd. Demonstrators have said they believed the police deployed tear gas. 

That response spurred a federal lawsuit against the City of Aurora and the police department. 

This story was updated with a comment from the Aurora Police Department and information about the equipment APD received through the 1033 program.