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Des Moines Police Department conducting investigation into use of force during protests

The use of tear gas at several protests at the Iowa State Capitol has been the source of backlash from the Des Moines Black Lives Matter chapter.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Des Moines police are conducting a comprehensive investigation into the collective use of force throughout protests following the death of George Floyd.

This comes after Des Moines City Council member Josh Mandelbaum made the investigation public during a council meeting on June 22.

“In the interest of transparency and accountability, I wanted to make sure the public knew this investigation was underway and that we do have a plan to share the results publicly,” Mandelbaum said.

City Manager Scott Sanders said the investigation should be available by September.

The Des Moines Police Department said Chief Dana Wingert was not available to discuss the investigation, but Sgt. Paul Parizek spoke with Local 5’s Eva Andersen about the investigation, and DMPD’s Use of Force Policy.

“Every single use of force by our officers is investigated internally, and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember, decades,” Sgt. Parizek said. “The only thing that’s going to be different with this one, is in addition to those individual investigations, because there are so many agencies involved, we’re going to get together at some point and have a comprehensive review of everything we did collectively and maybe see if there’s some things we could do better or do differently should something like this happen again.”

Parizek said that the investigation would look at all incidents of uses of force through protests that began May 29. He says the start and end date of the review will be determined by how long protests continue. 

The use of tear gas at several protests at the Iowa State Capitol when protesters remained non-violent has been the source of backlash from the Des Moines Black Lives Matter movement. Parizek said tear gas had not been used in more than a decade before the recent protests.

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When asked if officers deployed tear gas on several occasions after dispersal orders at the Capitol, even though the protesters remained non-violent, Parizek said it was more of a preventative action.

“There are a lot of things that we’ve learned as things have gone on. Some of those are predictive behaviors, where we can see something that’s getting to the point where it may take that turn.”

Section II. C. of the Des Moines Police Department Use of Force Policy, last revised in June of 2019, says: Nothing in this policy requires an officer to be exposed to injury before applying reasonable force.

Des Moines artist MarKaus, an activist in the Des Moines Black Lives Matter movement, said he believes tear gas was never a reasonable option for non-violent protesters, even as a preventative action.

“Even looking at the policy, there’s a problem all the way around,” said MarKaus. “Just the fact that they are, as a police department, trained to respond or felt prompted to respond in such a militant way to peaceful protests ... I think it speaks on their training, it speaks on the larger culture of problems in their department at large.”

Parizek said some of the tactics they’ve used are already being reviewed. 

“It’s new for all of us. Nobody’s ever been in this position before, so it’s not surprising that we learn things as we go, we learn things that we can do better, we learn things that don’t work."

Parizek told Local 5 the department's tactical team would have more insight related to specific practices police would or would not use during any future protests.

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