WORCESTER – In a communication to Worcester’s City Manager Edward Augustus, Worcester Police Chief Steve Sargent says the Worcester Police Department doesn’t focus on or embrace the militarizing the police force.
The WPD has come under some scrutiny amid calls for the “de-militarization” of the police force following an incident on June 1 on Main St. after a peaceful protest earlier that evening. Claims were made that police used tear gas. Nineteen people were arrested in what the WPD called a “chaotic and violent” disturbance.
In regards to the purchase of military-grade weapons and gear, Chief Sargent said the department’s “…Tactical Patrol Force and SWAT Team does not receive equipment or training from the U.S. Military.”
Sargent also the WPD doesn’t use tear gas, and instead uses a less-lethal form called oleoresins capsicum, or “OC.” Sargent says for the past 25 years or so, officers have carried small canisters of OC — a natural substance extracted from hot peppers — with them as an option to subdue individuals resisting arrest or attempting to assault the officer.
“The SWAT team simply deploys canisters with larger amounts. The department has specific policies and protocols surrounding how and when OC can be deployed,” Sargent wrote in the communication.
In regards to militarized weapons, Sargent said under the command of former Chief Gary Gemme in 2014, the department did an inventory of items received from the Department of Defense back in the 1990s. On hand, the department had 40 M-14 and M-16 high-powered rifles in the armory in the basement of police headquarters. Sargent says the weapons had never been used or deployed and were returned to the government.
Sargent says the SWAT team uses smaller caliber guns than the military rifles routinely used decades ago. He said the Tactical Force team wears chest protectors, helmets and shin guards.
“These are the equivalent of a baseball catcher’s equipment. They are also issued a plastic baton to use in crowd dispersal,” Sargent wrote.
He said the weapons and equipment used by both the SWAT and Tactical Force teams are researched carefully.
“…Over the past decade our department has not focused on or embraced ‘militarizing’ the department. Rather, our efforts and resources have been directed toward community policing initiatives,” Sargent concluded.
Augustus will present this communication at the City Council meeting Tuesday night at 6:30 PM. It can be seen on channel 192 on Spectrum cable, at the City of Worcester’s Facebook page, or on the City of Worcester’s website.
To call in, dial 415-655-0001and use Access Code: 730323290.