Councilors Retable Vote to Purchase Riot Gear For Police Dept.

DULUTH, Minn. – In a 5-3 vote Monday night, the Duluth City Council decided to table a resolution authorizing the purchase of protective gear, also known as riot gear, for police officers after much opposition to the idea from community activists, concerned citizens and the Duluth chapter of the NAACP.

Councilors Zack Filipovich, Joel Sipress, Arik Forsman, Em Westerlund and Gary Anderson voted to table the resolution.  Councilors Renee Van Nett, Barb Russ and Noah Hobbs voted against tabling the resolution. Councilor Jay Fosle was absent.

Police chief Mike Tusken has said the riot gear, which would cost around $83,000, would only be used on rare occasions to protect officers and the public in large-scale violent situations, but many citizens at the council meeting believe the gear would be militarizing the police force and act as a threat to minority groups.

Over 40 people showed up to voice their thoughts on the issue, and only three citizens were in favor of the gear.

“Please remember, my dad and all police officers are moms and dads, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, best friends just like all of us and we need to make sure they are safe,” said a young woman who was in support of the gear.

“My city is not a war zone and I know that if you table voting on the riot gear tonight, you will give Duluth a chance,” said one Duluth woman who was opposed of the gear.

Chief Tusken has also said he is fully committed to community policing and continuing to build relationships with values of being fair, accountable, caring and transparent.

Mayor Emily Larson sent the following e-mail to the city council earlier in the day on Monday showing support of Tusken and protective gear.

“The second is the purchase of personal protective gear for the Duluth Police Department. As you know, when searching for a new Chief of Police two years ago, I laid out a vision for a deep community engagement process so that the community would have a key voice in the decision on who will serve them best. This process included a community panel, representative of many different interests, and a public forum where residents could hear directly from finalists as well as ask them questions. I was then, and am still today, extremely proud to have found a trusted, capable, and selfless chief in Mike Tusken.

I want to thank you, councilors, for considering the matter of personal protective gear. As many of you know and/or remember, this item is an already approved budget matter, and that we collectively decided to “hit pause” in moving this forward so that we could further engage the public. To that end, I am comfortable with what Chief Tusken has done to date, and I continue to trust his leadership in overseeing a police department that is widely appreciated by our community. I also know, and appreciate, that Duluth is an engaged city. We vote, march, protest, and volunteer to improve our community. It is absolutely imperative to me that we continue to protect the voices of those who wish to express their opinions as that is the core of what democracy looks like. It is also important to me that we protect those tasked with protecting an individual’s right to express themselves. Our dedicated staff work tirelessly, selflessly, and respectfully to provide a safe Duluth for all, and it is our job to ensure that they are also safe.

For all of these reasons, I support Chief Tusken’s request at this time.

Recognizing that we are not perfect, I am committed to working with you all, the community, and Chief Tusken to engage the public on how our staff can improve, do, and be better.”


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