The city of Duluth released a policy on crowd-control protective equipment for Duluth Police Department officers after 10 months of crafting the policy with input from community members.

In 2018, Duluth City Council approved the department's request to spend up to $82,721 in personal protective equipment, sometimes called riot gear.

The new policy includes a list of the equipment and the circumstances in which officers would be permitted to utilize it.

A four-tiered guideline outlines the appropriate police response during civil disturbances. The crowd-control equipment can only be used in circumstances that require a "level four" response, which is defined by the existence of a "credible threat of civil disturbance involving potential violence to persons or property."

A variety of factors will be considered when deciding what level of response a situation requires, including number of participants, credible-threat information and history of demonstration and participants.

The Duluth Police Policy Working Group will present the policy to the police department at a public meeting in February, according to a news release from the city. The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. Feb. 3 at Denfeld High School.

Twenty community members assisted in crafting the policy including representatives from Duluth NAACP, the Homeless Person's Bill of Rights coalition, the city of Duluth Indigenous Commission, Showing Up For Racial Justice and Prism, a local coalition for the LGBTQ+ community and allies. The meetings also included the public and the police department.

In a statement, Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said the department has a history of including the public in crafting policies.

"Each time, we end up with a better product and the protective gear policy is no different,” Tusken said. “I want to show my gratitude for the organizations and citizens who put many hours of their personal time in helping us create a policy that helps us be a better police department for our community.”

The crowd management and control policy asks that the department take certain steps before ordering forced dispersal of a crowd. The steps includes connecting with crowd leaders to assess intentions and develop a mutual plan for de-escalation, communicating with participants that the assembly violates the law and targeting specific violent individuals for arrest.

If a forced crowd dispersal becomes the only option, prior to taking action police must give a warning that consists of ordering the crowd to disperse, designating the route and informing the crowd what enforcement actions will occur if the crowd doesn't disperse.

The policy also asks that a second and third warning be given and that they be recorded via audio or video.

Several use-of-force restrictions during civil disturbances are also outlined in the policy, including K-9 use, water cannons, tear gas, firearms and electronic-jamming devices.

“We made it happen regardless of how long it took. This is a proud moment for me and the committee,” Duluth Citizen Review Board President Archie Davis said.

Crowd control protective equipment

  • Ballistic helmet
  • Clear face shield
  • Chest protector with shoulder pad
  • Groin and thigh protector
  • One-piece knee/shin/foot protector
  • Elbow pads
  • Forearm pad
  • Clear shield
  • 36-inch crowd-control baton
  • Body cameras

Controversial request started in 2017

The police department's initial December 2017 request to purchase protective equipment was tabled by the City Council for about a year after public push-back sparked the need for community discussion.

During the 2018 meeting in which the council approved the request, protesters in attendance caused the council to temporarily shut down the meeting.

Concerns from opponents largely centered on the role increased police power would have on people of marginalized identities. Some opponents recalled scenes from anti-pipeline protests at North Dakota's Standing Rock Reservation and worried the gear would be used similarly.

Others expressed concern that increasing police power could be used to further oppress marginalized people. Ahead of the vote, the Duluth NAACP issued a statement asking for more discussion.

“It is imperative that any actions relating to a potential increase in police power happen only after thorough discussion with communities of people of color, American Indians, homeless people, LGBTQ, and others that suffer disproportionate levels of police violence,” the statement said.

Tusken referred to the proposed gear as an insurance policy and assured opponents and skeptics that just because the department owns the gear, that doesn't mean they'll use it.

This story was updated at 1:39 p.m. to add background details. It was originally posted at 12:53 p.m.