What did police buy to handle protests?

Protestors march with signs in near the White House May 31, 2020, protests in Washington, D.C. (Steve Blandino / Dreamstime.com)

By Workshop staff


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This week we produced a story about police-department purchases early in the summer in response to thousands who protested George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and police brutality nationwide. 

We found that police in Washington, D.C., ordered more than $300,000 worth of “less-lethal” weapons, including tear gas, and used this and other chemical agents on largely peaceful protesters. We shared our findings with the CBS affiliate in Washington, WUSA9, which ran a story by reporter Nathan Baca on Oct. 14.

The IRW story dove into problems and civil suits in Denver and other cities where dozens of people were injured during the protests.

Chris Halsne, who teaches broadcast investigative reporting in the School of Communication, worked with IRW over the summer and early fall to file public-records requests. He sought comments from police departments in several major cities and developed the story with contributions from IRW intern Sasha Fernandez, a senior journalism major.

“While watching live news coverage of police officers throwing flash-bangs and shooting rubber bullets at both protesters and journalists in early June, the word ‘irony’ swept through my head,” Halsne recalled. “Police agencies, using tax money, were shooting potentially dangerous projectiles at taxpayers.”

He filed requests for purchase orders for protest-related equipment to help the public better understand internal policy decisions.

“Are agencies buying supplies that reflect an aggressive approach or a passive one? This is simple government- accountability reporting,” he said.