A map overlaid with the borders of BPD's patrol beats shows were police deployed special weapons and equipment.
Berkeley police reported 88 instances where they deployed special weapons and equipment in 2022. All but nine were within city limits. Image: Courtesy BPD

Berkeley police reported 88 instances of deploying specialized weapons and equipment last year, from M4 patrol rifles to what is known commonly known as “flash-bang” grenades, although officers very rarely ended up using the weapons.

The department has also kept, though not used, a complement of tear gas as the city administration studies alternatives following a ban in 2020, according to information from the same report from police that the City Council received Tuesday.

Officers deployed patrol rifles 43 times and single-shot 40mm less-lethal projectile launchers 50 times in 2022, .308-caliber Remington 700 rifles and “light/sound diversionary devices” or “flash-bang” grenades three times each and long-range acoustic devices (LRAD) five times, according to the report.

Officers also brought out FN 303 launchers 20 times last year. Those launchers fire 68-caliber projectiles “similar to that of most manufactured paintball guns” that are “designed to fragment upon impact to prevent penetration injury” and “transfer kinetic energy to the body to gain pain compliance,” according to BPD’s 2022 report.

“Deploying” a weapon does not necessarily mean that an officer used it, and in most cases, officers never fired the weapons they brought. More than one weapon may be deployed in a given scenario. Since a weapon or piece of equipment may not be used, deployments are enumerated differently from uses of force.

In one case, police used an LRAD to evacuate the Berkeley Marina following a tsunami warning in the Pacific Ocean.

Of all 88 instances, many of which involved armed suspects, there were no rifle shots, nor less-lethal launches save for four 44mm projectiles fired over three instances.

In one case, a man a caller said was using methamphetamine threw wrenches and screwdrivers at responding officers while screaming, “There’s a pedo inside the house, and I’m going to kill him. I’m ready to die,” police said.

In a second, a burglary suspect hid his hands and refused to come out of hiding despite repeated warnings from officers — whom police said didn’t know whether the suspect was armed — that they would fire their launchers. Two did, one of them hitting him, and police recovered screwdrivers, a bullet and “a window-smashing tool,” they said.

In the third case, a suspect on whom police were serving a child abuse search warrant tried to stab a detective, breaking his body camera, and police hit her with a 44mm round, police said. She still kept a grip on the knife, slashing a supervisor’s finger until officers were able to get it out of her hands, police said.

A year-over-year comparison was not immediately available. In 2022, police reported on deployments for part of 2021, but the council didn’t pass an ordinance until May 2021 mandating the police department enumerate how and when it uses certain equipment.

The department had already begun capturing data for that year through an internal process, according to a report to the council from July 2022, but even that only began in March 2021.

The department has a cache of weapons it never used in 2022 or the part of 2021 for which it had data — a .50-caliber Barrett Model 99 anti-material rifle, higher capacity 40mm launchers, 36-inch batons and throwable and launchable canisters, some loaded with oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray, others with tear gas.

Only specially trained precision rifle operators are authorized to deploy the department’s Remingtons or Barrett. The Barrett “shall only be used for disabling a motor vehicle in extreme circumstances,” according to a department policy. Police confirmed they have not used the weapon in at least a decade.

Police reported 204 canisters in their possession as of the end of last year but did not differentiate between tear gas and OC canisters. The total is the same as reported at the end of 2021, at which point the department had 83 total OC canisters and 111 tear gas. Police confirmed there were no immediate plans to dispose of the canisters or sell or donate them to other agencies.

In 2020, immediately following the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, the City Council banned the use of tear gas by city police or any agency offering mutual aid. They also temporarily banned pepper spray or smoke as a crowd-control method.

As a result of the tear gas ban, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said it would no longer provide mutual aid at events in Berkeley, telling Berkeley officials they would have to call in the National Guard if they needed help.

In 2022, the council ordered the city administration to “study alternatives to chemical agents to improve the Berkeley Police Department’s ability and capacity to respond to and de-escalate large-scale crowd scenarios, including violent militias,” according to the council’s records. The administration’s report is due at the end of this month.

Alex N. Gecan joined Berkeleyside in 2023 as a senior reporter covering public safety. He has covered criminal justice, courts and breaking and local news for The Middletown Press, Stamford Advocate and...