TUCSON, Ariz. - The Pima County Supervisors are taking a stand against law enforcement use of rubber bullets. With the weapons used recently during Black Lives Matter protests---and leading to serious eye injuries, Supervisors voted three to two for a resolution condemning the use of the weapons.
When protests hit the streets after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody, police around the country used a variety of methods to try to break up the crowds. Some claimed police hit them with what they described as rubber bullets.
After people lost eyes and had other serious injuries the American Academy of Ophthalmology began a campaign to end the use of rubber bullets.
Pima County Supervisor Betty Villegas convinced two of her colleagues to back a resolution condemning those weapons.
She says, “And while we understand that this result does not give the board authority to stop the use. Our goal is to include this item in any new policy being worked on by the chef, and the justice reform department.”
Civilians seem to use rubber bullets as an umbrella term for a range of what police call impact weapons. Projectiles may range from rubber, to special foam, to wood or bags of pellets.
“Members shall use only that amount of force reasonably necessary to make an arrest or gain control of a situation.”
Those orders define impact weapons as the last step before deadly force.
Tucson Police General Orders also place impact weapons as the last alternative before deadly force.
They are more specific about impact weapons like foam baton projectiles and say: “Generally, kinetic-impact rounds shall only be used to counter active aggression or greater. “
District One supervisor Ally Miller challenged Supervisor Villegas to cite an example of the Pima Sheriff's Department abusing impact weapons. Miller worried removing weapons officers might use instead of deadly force will lead to more deadly force.
She says, “What you're doing, by suggesting this is you're eliminating the use of less lethal means for law enforcement, which is forcing them to use their guns.”
With Supervisors Villegas, Valadez and Bronson supporting the resolution and Supervisors Miller and Christy opposing it, the resolution passed three to two.
Pima County Sheriff's Department released this statement:
The Pima County Sheriff’s Department shares the concerns of the Board of Supervisors about the possibility for unintended injuries from the use of “rubber bullets.” The use of less lethal impact projectiles by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department is limited to very specific high-risk activities and only used by specially trained personnel. Less lethal tools provide a valuable intermediate level of force within our force options. The Pima County Sheriff’s Department uses less lethal impact projectiles on an extremely infrequent and very limited basis. We only use them when doing so would mitigate the potential need for a higher level of force and would reduce the potential for greater risk of injuries to the public and our personnel. Since 2010, the department has used less lethal projectiles only 13 times to bring dangerous incidents to a peaceful resolution. Properly used, they are a valuable tool for law enforcement.