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City Council Votes to Ban Tear Gas, Order Reinstating Indoor Dining Restrictions Fails

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The Cambridge City Council passed a policy order adding a provision to Cambridge’s Municipal Code explicitly restricting the use of tear gas in the city, while also voting down an order that would reinstate capacity restrictions for indoor dining in restaurants.

Following a tense debate at last week’s council meeting, Councilor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler presented new ordinance language explicitly banning the use of tear gas and other chemical agents by Cambridge government entities — including the Cambridge Police Department. Other cities including Berkeley, Calif. and Philadelphia already passed tear gas bans, and Boston and Somerville, Mass. are set to do so as well in the coming weeks, according to Sobrinho-Wheeler.

“They’ve all passed ordinances to make sure that any city policy change would require a majority of the city council to allow tear gas again,” he said.

The council unanimously passed this policy order, which will be sent to the Ordinance Committee for further discussion.

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Tear gas has not been deployed in Cambridge since the 1970s, and while the Cambridge Police Department currently does not possess tear gas or authorize the use of it, the department does not explicitly ban it either.

Earlier that day, CPD Commissioner Branville G. Bard, Jr., who said at last week’s meeting he had “no problem” with a tear gas ban, filed a departmental policy “prohibiting the acquisition, possession, discharge, and/or authorization to discharge tear gas or any other related chemical weapon for all members of the Department.”

The policy has been sent to both police unions for review and is set to go in effect on March 29.

City Manager Louis A. DePasquale also presented the weekly update on the city’s pandemic response at the meeting.

As of March 11, the Cambridge city vaccination program expanded “Phase Two” eligibility to “Group Three” individuals, which include K-12 educators, K-12 school staff, and child care workers. Including those in “Phase One” groups, the city has administered 2,289 doses of Moderna vaccine and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Cambridge Chief Public Health Officer Claude A. Jacob said the city public health department is working to ramp up its homebound vaccination program.

“While the number of residents is relatively small and the project will require significant effort, it is extremely important because there are people who would likely die if they were to be infected,” Jacob said. “We know that this is a very vulnerable population.

Cambridge is continuing to move forward with its phased reopening plan, and with “Phase Three, Step Two” in progress, capacity limits currently are set at 50 percent across the city. DePasquale cited the city’s favorable case numbers as evidence for the decision to maintain reopening.

“Our collective efforts have helped keep Cambridge at one of the lowest positivity rates of any city of its size in the state, if not the lowest,” DePasquale said.

According to DePasquale, the Cambridge Public Health Department has not observed case clusters attributed to indoor dining — a finding which contradicts statements from Jacob at last week’s council meeting.

“With regard to indoor dining, what we'd like to see is the change in our dining out culture where the pandemic is under control,” Jacob said at the time.

The failed policy order, which attempted to reimpose capacity restrictions for restaurants, was met with opposition from all the councilors except the three who co-sponsored it: Quinton Y. Zondervan, Dennis J. Carlone, and Sobrinho-Wheeler.

“There is no basis for this policy order to exist tonight,” Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon said.

Cambridge previously delayed its “Phase Three, Step Two” reopening plan back in October. Zondervan, however, questioned why the city would move ahead with this new phase now, with the city seeing around 16 to 17 new Covid-19 cases a day, compared to around three a day in October.

Sobrinho-Wheeler, another co-sponsor of the policy order, cited the city’s Covid-19 Expert Advisory Panel’s recent report which “expressed strong concern about recent state and local reopening decisions,” specifically restaurants and other indoor areas. He also referenced the Cambridge Public Health department’s observation that many indoor diners do not wear their masks when they are not actively eating or drinking.

Mallon, however, pointed out that previously lifting capacity restrictions did not allow most restaurants to increase their seating capacity, as they still had to adhere to the six-foot distancing of tables.

“I will be encouraging the motion-maker, again, to please reach out to city departments prior to putting policy orders in, to get the facts before they bring them to the city council for discussion,” Mallon said.

“The entire city and our small business community, our small restaurant community, is watching and waiting and hoping for guidance from us,” she added.

—Staff writer Ryan S. Kim can be reached at ryan.kim@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer David R. Shaw can be reached at david.shaw@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @davidrwshaw.

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