Tear Gas in Law Enforcement

Sometimes you’ll find locally grown produce in the most unexpected and unusual places.

Take, for example, a little industrial film entitled Tear Gas in Law Enforcement. Recently aired late one night on television’s best channel — Turner Classic Movies — this 25-minute film was (according to its prologue) ‘designed to supplement planned classroom and field training in the use of Tear Gas’.

Produced in 1962 on behalf of the Lake Erie Chemical Corporation of Wickliffe, Ohio, the film begins with scenes of angry demonstrators waggling protest signs and ominous looking clubs. Looking like they came straight from the set of a Depression-era William Wellman film (many of them are wearing fedoras), we’re not told what their beef is, but they sure are angry about something.

After a brief classroom demonstration wherein we learn that Lake Erie also produces something called ‘sickening gas’, the film cuts to a burly gentleman in a plaid shirt, standing in what appears to be a desert proving ground of some sort. Our friend is here to demonstrate how tear gas can be safely and effectively used to quell rioters, criminals, or the criminally insane.

To this point, Tear Gas in Law Enforcement could have been shot anywhere in the interior west. But the focus tightens in the next scene: a dramatic re-enactment of police officers besieging a group of young thugs holed up in an abandoned warehouse. As Officer Friendly calls in his report to headquarters, we notice the name of his department painted on the door of his patrol car: Concord Police. Interesting. Yes, I suppose the film could have been shot during a hot Contra Costa summer—but there are plenty of other Concords around the nation. It’s pretty obvious this isn’t the one in New Hampshire, but perhaps there’s one in New Mexico, too?

Concord police car

As the film continues, however, the puzzle pieces fall into place. An angry demonstration is once again underway outside a factory. Not only are the demonstrators extremely loud and angry, they’re also surprisingly multi-racial. In fact the crowd is basically half African-American, half white. The camera pans away from them for a brief street shot. Good gosh, that really looks like the East Bay hills in the background!

East Bay hills as seen from West Berkeley, 1962

Panning back to the furious mob, we see this: Western Steel – Division United States Steel – Berkeley Plant. Wow! It’s 1962, we have a multi-racial crowd demonstrating in Berkeley, and here come the gas-masked fuzz to break it up! It’s like a dress rehearsal for the end of the decade, only with well-groomed demonstrators.

Berkeley P.D. don their gas masks
Protest outside Berkeley steel plant

Produced by the Golden State Film Corporation of Berkeley, California, Tear Gas in Law Enforcement is an amazing piece of cinema ephemera. And it IS ephemeral: not only will you find no reference to it on the internet, it doesn’t even earn a listing on TCM’s website. If there’s a reader out there who can tell me more about either the film or the company that made it, or even the precise location of the Western Steel plant, please get in touch! Likewise if you can identify the mob’s angry ringleader…

Who is this man?

This is the third post in an occasional series by John Seal on movies made in Berkeley. Read the first, on Hall Bartlett’s “Changes”, here; and the second, on “Harold and Maude”, here. John Seal writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movie’s Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.

Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box...