San Jose police chief restricts rubber bullet, projectile use for crowd control

The San Jose police chief is restricting the use of rubber bullets in the wake of recent protests. The chief is responding to criticism surrounding the use of force during last week’s protests. Officers used less lethal methods including rubber bullets. Some people want them banned outright.

San Jose Police officers in riot gear firing rubber bullets, using tear gas and flash bang grenades is under scrutiny following complaints that officers used excessive force to control protestors.

In response, San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia on Monday issued a memo that said in part, “Effective immediately, in crowd control situations, projectile impact weapons will only be used where a person is actively attacking an officer or another person or when an armed agitator poses a threat.”

“I think truly what we were trying to do was stop the violence not only against the police officers but stop the violence for those peaceful protestors,” said San Jose Police Officers Association President Sgt. Paul Kelly.

The changes are backed by the San Jose Police Union and the San Jose Mayor.

“What the police chief has done clearly has started the conversation,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. “It’s a very good step.”

The mayor wants to do more including expanding the independent police auditor's authority. He doesn’t want to restrict rubber bullets but ban them.

“They are very imprecise,” said Liccardo. “They hit people that shouldn't be hit, and in some cases we are seeing serious injuries and in other countries we are seeing death.”

“We have been seeing a number of injuries in the community increase in the number of severe blinding injuries after protests,” said Dr. Alejandra de Alba from the UCSF Dept. of Opthalmology.

De Alba started a petition against the use of rubber bullets, which has now been signed by almost 400 physicians.

Legislators are proposing a statewide ban. A protestor from Sacramento was struck by a rubber bullet back on May 29.

“While speaking to the surgeon, after my surgery, I was informed that there is a 99 percent chance that I will be blind in my left eye,” said Shantania Love of Sacramento.

The San Jose Police Union cautions stripping officers of less lethal tools could be risky.

“The last thing we need is hand to hand type combat on the street with batons,” said Sgt. Kelly. “We want to make sure people don't get hurt the best we can.”

The changes will be discussed at Tuesday’s city council meeting. The police chief is expected to explain further the department’s use of force to break up protests.