Madison’s Common Council to Vote on Tear Gas Ban

by Safety Connection

Update 9-24-22: On Tuesday, September 20th, the Madison Common Council did NOT ban tear gas. Instead a substitute ordinance was passed that will require the soon-to-be-officially-hired Independent Monitor to begin an after-action review within 30 days of when tear gas is used by Madison Police for crowd control. The vote was 14-4 with Alder Wehelie abstaining. The 4 Alders voting no were Harrington-McKinney, Myadze, Carter, and Evers. They did not think the use of tear gas needed to be micromanaged by the Independent Monitor.

On Tuesday September 20, 2022 the Madison Common Council is scheduled to consider a ban on tear gas in the city of Madison. This ban would prohibit Madison Police Officers and any officers that respond to Madison for mutual aid from using “tear gas, mace, impact projectile devices or other chemical agents for purposes of crowd control.”

**Please note: in addition to a ban on tear gas, under this ordinance Madison Police Officers would also be prohibited from using mace (pepper spray) which any citizen can legally obtain and use without training. MPD officers ARE trained in the use of mace and are exposed to it during their pre-service academy (in addition to being tased). If this tool is taken away, Officers would have few options in an out-of-control crowd situation which could endanger their lives and the lives of the community members they were sent to protect.

How would this proposed ordinance affect you?

Tear gas is a tool that can help keep civilians, officers and property safe in an out-of-control crowd situation

Obviously no one is a fan of tear gas. No one wants to be tear gassed and our police officers don’t want to have to use tear gas on anyone. Hopefully no one is ever tear gassed on Madison streets again. But these are tools that are really important for the few times they may be needed. Like those nights of civil unrest late May/early June 2020 when our downtown businesses were being destroyed, and people (including police officers and other first responders) were in harm’s way. 

What if tear gas was not an option for Madison Police during civil unrest downtown in August 2020 when they helped a Madison firetruck get through an unruly crowd? Firefighters needed to extinguish that fire before many gallons of gasoline were ignited, causing a massive explosion and endangering many lives.

This ordinance will likely restrict many of the types of large-scale events, marches and appearances for which Madison is known

When this ban was proposed, the Dane County Chiefs of Police (representing all police chiefs in Dane County) and the Badger State Sheriffs’ Association (representing all 72 sheriff’s departments across the state) sent letters to Madison Police and the Common Council and Mayor stating they will not respond to mutual aid requests if this ordinance is passed.

The Madison Police Department does not have the capacity to staff large-scale conferences, demonstrations or events on their own. This could affect your ability to practice your free speech safely downtown and could cut the city off from being able to sponsor certain special events or appearances by political candidates and dignitaries.

When Milwaukee banned tear gas, more than 100 law enforcement agencies who had offered assistance with staffing the Democratic National Convention backed out. No one wants to send their Officers into a potentially violent crowd without the tools they need to keep themselves and community members safe and protect against significant property damage if a crowd should get out of control.

It could cost you more money as a taxpayer

A Fiscal Note attached to the proposed ordinance states that “This ordinance has the potential to increase costs to the City through increased claim and litigation costs, and lack of mutual aid from surrounding jurisdictions that may result in increased overtime. It may result in the loss of revenue from the loss of large events due to the inability to obtain mutual aid.”


You would think that with this information members of the Common Council would recognize the dangers and the unintended consequences of this ordinance. But the Common Council referred the proposed ordinance to the city’s Public Safety Review Committee, and in August that committee (which includes 3 alders) voted to recommend the ban to the Common Council on a 4-1 vote. It now moves to a full Common Council vote on Tuesday, September 20.


**How Can YOU Take Action to Prevent This Ban from Passing?**

Send an email to the Mayor and all Alders and express your opposition to this ban on less-lethal tools for the Madison Police Department. There are more facts and information you can access below to help you craft a personal message from your own perspective. Or simply write, “Please vote no on resolution 5.17 and keep these tools in the hands of our trained law enforcement officers for the good of our city.”

Email: and

You can also email your alder directly and ask them how they plan to vote on the resolution and why and also share your own perspective. You can find your Alder using this form.

Give public comments at the Common Council meeting on September 20th at 6:30 p.m. You can either attend the meeting in person and give your remarks live at Room 201, City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard or you can attend the virtual meeting via Zoom and give your remarks from wherever you are. If you attend virtually, you will need to register to speak online after the agenda comes out on Friday afternoon, September 16. You need to register under the right agenda number. We will update this post with the agenda number and provide links, etc, as soon as that information is out on Friday afternoon. There is a time limit maximum of 3 minutes per speaker and video is not allowed, so if you join virtually,  no one will see you. You can read your prepared remarks if you would like. Or you can go to this link and look it up yourself Friday afternoon or later:

Or talk to your alder in person, on Zoom or over the phone. Ask them how they intend to vote and then share YOUR thoughts on the proposed ordinance.

Reducing non-lethal force options makes lethal force more likely. Modern, 21st century police reforms are for adding non-lethal options, not taking them away.

If these tools are taken away, Officers are left with wood batons, tasers, guns, and their empty hands. None of these are effective in dealing with a destructive crowd and no one wants to see police officers going hands on with citizens—or worse yet, resorting to lethal force. Tear gas and other chemical irritants allow for more successful de-escalation and dispersal by giving Officers the benefit of distance and time.

Further Information and References

  • Alder Juliana Bennett sponsored a resolution to ban Madison Police, and all mutual aid agencies, from using tear gas, mace, all chemical irritants, and impact munitions (sponge rounds) from use in crowd/riot control. It was introduced at the Common Council meeting on June 21 and then referred to the August 10th Public Safety Review Committee meeting, where they voted to recommend that the Common Council ban tear gas on a 4-1 vote. It will go back to the Common Council on Tuesday Sept. 20th for a vote. 
  • The Madison Police Department already has a nationally-recognized philosophy for policing events, crowds and protests called “The Madison Method”.

The “Madison Method” Seven Principles of Handling Crowds and Demonstrations:

  1. We PROTECT community members’ constitutional rights to assemble, petition the government and engage in free speech.
  2. We are IMPARTIAL and remain neutral regardless of the issue.
  3. We maintain OPEN DIALOGUE with community members and the news media before, during and after demonstrations.
  4. We MONITOR demonstrations and marches to protect individual rights and ensure public safety.
  5. We BALANCE the rights of demonstrators with the rights of the community at large.
  6. We use RESTRAINT in the use of force. We protect people first and property second.
  7. We, as PEACE OFFICERS pursue CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT of our method.
  • After tear gas was used during the unrest downtown in 2020, then-Fire Chief Steve Davis and Police Chief Vic Wahl talked about how important it is to have this tool available as a last resort. You can watch that August 25, 2020 press conference here (fast forward approximately 20 minutes).
  • Here is the Madison Police Department’s Tear Gas Report explaining the number of times tear gas has been used since 2002 which is when MPD began collecting use-of-force data.
  • The Madison Police Department requested that the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice do a Sentinel Event Review on the civil unrest of 2020. “MPD voluntarily provided the Quattrone Center with more than 1,600 pages of documents related to the protests, as well as more than 625 hours of closed-circuit television (CCTV) video, more than 30 hours of radio transmissions, and access to officers who participated in the protests at all levels of the organization, from patrol officers to the Interim Chief of Police. This review was supplemented by interviews from over 50 MPD officers who participated in the specific events reviewed and by statements from over 140 Madison community members regarding the protests, and by a review of publicly available information available on the Internet and social media from various sources.” You can find that report here.

In short, the Stakeholders from all sides agreed that tear gas needs to be a tool that stays on the table for times when it’s truly needed. The report does not suggest banning tear gas…quite the contrary. Of course it is a tool of last resort, when other efforts to de-escalate and disperse have not been effective and a declaration of unlawful assembly has been made.

Recommendation #65 on page 109 of the Quattrone Center’s Review says, “The Stakeholders recognize the intrusiveness and undesirability of CS gas and other similar chemical munitions. At the same time, the Stakeholders understand the potential need for MPD to disperse a crowd in ways that avoid the use of more dangerous or potentially lethal weapons. Therefore, the Stakeholders recommend that MPD should use CS gas as a crowd dispersal tactic cautiously, using it only when people are at risk of imminent physical harm or to prevent substantial property damage.”

Additional Resources

  • Wisconsin State Journal: “Madison to Consider Banning Police from Using Tear Gas for Crowd Control for Second Time”

Voting in support of the ban were Alder Brian Bedford, Alder Juliana Bennett (the sponsor of the resolution), Aisha Moe, and Brenda Konkel. Only Vincent Cha, a new member of the committee, voted against. Co-chairs Johnnie Milton and Matthew Giesfeldt were absent.

Public comments begin at 18:50 and the committee discussion begins at 43:57. Note that City Attorney Mike Haas had to step in to inquire if anyone was going to ask questions of the Police Chief who was in the meeting. City staff (including the Police Chief) are not allowed to speak unless someone on the committee asks a question.

Note that City Attorney Mike Haas had to step in to see if anyone was going to ask any questions of the Chief of Police, who was in the meeting.


Fiscal Note

This ordinance has the potential to increase costs to the City through increased claim and litigation costs, and lack of mutual aid from surrounding jurisdictions that may result in increased overtime.  It may result in the loss of revenue from the loss of large events due to the inability to obtain mutual aid.


Creating Section 5.17 of the Madison General Ordinances to prohibit the Madison Police Department and law enforcement responding under mutual aid from using tear gas, mace, impact projectile devices or other chemical agent for the purposes of crowd control.


DRAFTER’S ANALYSIS:  For the purposes of crowd control this ordinance prohibits all Madison Police Department commissioned officers while on duty, and any commissioned officers employed by any other law enforcement agency responding to a request for mutual aid by the Madison Police Department, from using tear gas, mace, pepper mace, pepper gas, projectile devices or any other chemical agent that has the potential to indiscriminately target anyone other than the intended target.

The Common Council of the City of Madison do hereby ordain as follows:

1.                      Section 5.17 entitled “Prohibition of Tear Gas, Mace and Impact Projectile Devices” of the Madison General Ordinances is created to read as follows:


(1) While on duty, all commissioned officers employed by the Madison Police Department and any commissioned officers employed by any other law enforcement agency responding to a request for Mutual Aid by the Madison Police Department are prohibited from using the following weapons that indiscriminately affect any individual other than the intended target for the purposes of crowd control:

(a)Tear gas, the active ingredient of which includes but is not limited to Chloroacetophenone (CN) or o-Chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS), chloropicrin (PS), bromobenzylcyanide (CA), dibenzoxazepine (CR), and combinations of various agents.

(b) Any other chemical agent such as mace, pepper mace or pepper gas, otherwise defined as oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray.

(c) Impact projectile devices, including but not limited to 40mm sponge rounds, small beanbags, pepper balls, foam baton round, stingball grenade.”

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