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Seattle Police Say 'Blast Balls' Safer Than Other Methods of Crowd Control

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
Seattle Police during May Day 2015 demonstrations.

The Seattle Police Department's use of so-called “blast balls” by to control crowds has come under fire.  During May Day demonstrations in 2015, some protesters in Seattle were injured by them, as well as a Seattle Times reporter. But at a briefing before the Seattle City Council, police brass insisted the use of blast balls, which are similar to flash-bang grenades, has made things safer for protesters and observers.Blast balls generate a loud noise and bright light when thrown. The Seattle Police Department says when a march or protest turns violent, dispersing blast balls helps separate police from the crowd, limiting the chance of direct use of force on individuals. Chief Operating Officer Brian Maxey says they've been a successful tool since they were adopted as a method of crowd control.

“We’ve had many fewer hands-on incidents. We’ve had almost no baton use in the last two years,” Maxey said.

And, he says, blast balls are less likely to hit innocent bystanders than large amounts of pepper spray or tear gas.

Seattle Lt. Marc Garth-Green acknowledges, like any less lethal force, blast balls can cause harm, but he says police are taught to use them judiciously.

“During this last May Day,  three times we had officers ready to deploy a blast ball, the situation changed where they felt it was no longer warranted and they took them around the corner and threw them in an alley,” Garth-Green said.

Still, some Seattle City Council members remain skeptical, saying they want more detailed policies in place for the use of such things as blast balls.  A civilian police advisory commission has called for a moratorium on their use in Seattle.