AUSTIN, Texas - The largest police union in Texas is warning the Austin police chief and city leaders that they will file suit if any officer working a protest without protective gear is injured or exposed to COVID-19.
That gear includes padding for officers' arms and legs and shields to protect them from bottles, rocks and other objects thrown their direction.
“We have officers that have been injured, we have officers that have had every kind of issue and they're taking away even the minuscule protections,” said Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.
After Austin City Council restricted the use of less-lethal ammunition and tear gas in response to protestors taking over the highway or throwing objects at the police, CLEAT issued the letter as a warning to Austin Police Chief Brian Manley and city leaders.
"You order somebody in, without the proper gear that exists in advance, telling them, ‘You're not going to be able to use proper PPE or shields or anything like that.' And so, not well thought out, not the way to run a city, not the way to run a police department, and we're very serious. Someone will get hurt and we will be suing,” Wilkison said.
The Austin Police Association shares concerns that patrol officers working the protests are not issued the same protective equipment, like shields and padding, that the Special Reaction Team has. But APA is hopeful that will be addressed in the coming weeks.
“We had a very productive meeting with Chief Manley last week and we plan on purchasing the proper equipment that these officers need to do their job,” said APA president Ken Casaday.
Casaday said the police will also ask the city council to reconsider the ban on tear gas in riot control situations, like when protesters take over a major highway. “What they're asking us to do, instead of doing that, will look worse. When we have to move up on those individuals and start pushing them with a large nightstick to get off the interstate. So, it's gonna look even worse than throwing a canister of gas and everybody running off,” he said.
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Wilkison said officers will gladly risk their lives protecting peaceful protesters, but when outside instigators show up and things turn violent, he said it's not fair to ask officers to protect city buildings without less-lethal options to push protesters back in order to protect themselves from physical harm and the possibility of contracting COVID-19.
“It's not honorable, of course, to turn into, I would say, a violent mob intent on destruction of life, property, and then order the police officers to stand there, but then not be able to have the gear or equipment to properly defend themselves or the main police department. That's ludicrous. That's gross negligence, and that's how you get sued. That's what we're gonna do,” said Wilkison.
FOX 7 Austin reached out to the police chief and the mayor about CLEAT's letter, but have not received a response.
The Austin Police Department HR office said already this year 47 of their officers have retired. In all of 2019, there were 46.