The Duluth Police Department's request to purchase what some people call personal protective equipment and others call riot gear will have to wait.
The Duluth City Council voted 5-3 Monday night to table a resolution that would have authorized police to spend up to $82,721 for the purchase of a variety of items, including shielded helmets, body armor and crowd-control batons.
Funding for the equipment already is included in the city budget for 2018, but the purchase was postponed in December to meet with community members and address public concerns raised about the prospect of increasingly militarized law enforcement.
Those concerns clearly still persist as evidenced by much of the lengthy public testimony delivered to the council Monday night.
Some in the crowd waved orange signs that read: "Riot gear won't make us safer. Table the vote."
Terresa Moses, a black resident of Duluth, warned against the proposed purchase, calling it "racist and systemically oppressive."
Meanwhile Sydney Zwak, the 13-year-old daughter of Ken Zwak, a member of the Duluth Police Department, pleaded for the council to provide the requested gear to keep both her father and her community safe.
The Duluth branch of the NAACP, the Indigenous Commission and a number of other groups promoting diversity issued a joint statement over the weekend, urging the council to table the resolution. They called for more community discussion on police use of force, before providing law enforcement with additional gear.
The joint statement said: "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, Native Americans, homelesss people, LGBTQ and others that suffer disproportionate levels of police violence."
But Mayor Emily Larson came out in solid support of Tusken's request via a letter to the council Monday afternoon.
She described Duluth as "an engaged city" by its very nature and observed: "We vote, march, protest and volunteer to improve our community. It is absolutely imperative to me that we continue to protect the voices of those who wish to express their opinions as that is the core of what democracy looks like."
But Larson also noted: "It is also important to me that we protect those tasked with protecting an individual's right to express themselves. Our dedicated staff work tirelessly, selflessly and respectfully to provide a safe Duluth for all, and it is our job to ensure that they are also safe. For all these reasons, I support Chief Tusken's request at this time."
Councilor Gary Anderson supported delaying a vote on the resolution, even though he said he favors the idea of providing police with the requested equipment to help ensure their safety. He said he hopes that in the coming month, community conversations can produce a policy and an understanding of how and when the gear would be deployed in a permissible fashion.
"This is a healthy community argument we're having," Anderson said.
Also voting to table the resolution were councilors Zack Filipovich, Arik Forsman, Joel Sipress and Em Westerlund.
Voting against the motion to table the resolution were councilors Barb Russ, Renee Van Nett and Noah Hobbs.
Councilor Jay Fosle was absent.