Police Looking Need, Evolution for Riot Gear

By Ali Ingersoll

Published 08/19 2014 11:38PM

Updated 08/20 2014 04:04AM

As the nation keeps their eyes on the situation in Ferguson, many local law enforcement agencies are discussing why they have protective gear.

State College Police now have helmets and pepper spray always on hand in case of rioting crowds. That wasn't always the case though. It took the riots in 1998 during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts for this upgrade and evolution.

"We didn't have any type of equipment to disperse large crows, to be able to communicate with a large crowd or to protect our officers," says Tom King, the State College Police Chief.

Those riots caused King and the force to reevaluate what they needed in case another riot broke out - which King says has happened "around a half dozen or dozen times since then."

"Part of that crowd control is not just using equipment but it is breaking down groups into smaller groups and trying to dismantle groups and splinter them little by little," says King.

Fast forward a decade to the riot connected to a football win over Ohio State. The gear police used in that - pepper spray, megaphones and helmets - all came from what happened 10 years prior.

"If police officers are going to be expected to restore order and protect property and protect life then we have to give the officers the tools that will do that," says King.

As a result of what happened in 1998, officers now always have pepper spray on their belts.  This is something that makes Jeff Fisher, a resident who has lived in the area since 1970, feel better.

"I always felt bad for Tom King and his guys," says Fisher. "They'd face these people who are a little nuts, maybe had a little too much to drink, and then they never were protected enough." 

He says in his years living and working in State College, he has seen his share of riots break out. Fisher believes police having the gear helps keep everyone safe in the long run.

"The protective gear makes them safe, makes them disperse the crowds easier and also keeps our community safer," says Fisher.

Copyright 2016 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.