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A training exercise conducted by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office led to the exposure of dozens of students and staff at a nearby elementary school to chemical agents. Deputies were participating in a crowd control training session at the San Bruno jail when the chemical agents extended beyond the designated training area, affecting the San Bruno community, including the school. The training involved the testing of chemical agents such as CS and OC gas, which are commonly used by law enforcement for subduing combative suspects. The sheriff’s office had notified the San Bruno Police and Fire Departments prior to the training.

The chemical agents drifted outside the training area to the nearby Portola Elementary School, where teachers and students reported symptoms such as burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat. The interim principal of the school, John Nazer, was perplexed as he tried to determine what was causing the issues before learning that it was tear gas and pepper spray from the training exercise. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the school community was affected by the agents, leading to a chaotic and challenging situation for the staff and students. This was an unprecedented incident as the training had been conducted at the site for over 20 years without prior issues.

Tara Moriarty, the Director of Communications for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office, issued an apology on behalf of the department to the school community for the mishap. She expressed regret for the fear that the children must have experienced due to the unforeseen event and the exposure to chemical agents. Members of the department’s command staff visited the school in person to explain what happened and to apologize for the incident. Moriarty also announced that the department would pause all future chemical agent training exercises while reviewing current practices to make them safer for the community.

The incident highlights the challenges and risks associated with law enforcement training exercises that involve the use of chemical agents near civilian populations. The training sessions are crucial for preparing peace officers for real-life situations and testing equipment safety. However, the unintended exposure of innocent bystanders, especially school children, to irritants like tear gas and pepper spray raises questions about the protocols and precautions taken during such exercises. The Sheriff’s Office’s decision to pause future training exercises and review practices reflects a commitment to ensuring the safety of the community and minimizing any impacts on the neighbors.

Efforts to mitigate the impact of the incident on the affected school community include personal visits from the command staff to explain and apologize for the unforeseen exposure to chemical agents. The school community, including faculty, students, and families, received a formal apology from the Sheriff’s Office, acknowledging the fear and uncertainty caused by the incident. The announcement of a review of current practices and a temporary pause on future chemical agent training exercises demonstrates a commitment to learning from the mishap and improving safety protocols for training sessions conducted near residential areas. It also underscores the need for a balance between law enforcement training needs and the well-being of the community, particularly vulnerable populations like school children.

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