Tear Gas in Law Enforcement

Sometimes you’ll find locally grown produce in the most unexpected and unusual places.

Take, for example, a little industrial film entitled Tear Gas in Law Enforcement. Recently aired late one night on television’s best channel — Turner Classic Movies — this 25-minute film was (according to its prologue) ‘designed to supplement planned classroom and field training in the use of Tear Gas’.

Produced in 1962 on behalf of the Lake Erie Chemical Corporation of Wickliffe, Ohio, the film begins with scenes of angry demonstrators waggling protest signs and ominous looking clubs. Looking like they came straight from the set of a Depression-era William Wellman film (many of them are wearing fedoras), we’re not told what their beef is, but they sure are angry about something.

After a brief classroom demonstration wherein we learn that Lake Erie also produces something called ‘sickening gas’, the film cuts to a burly gentleman in a plaid shirt, standing in what appears to be a desert proving ground of some sort. Our friend is here to demonstrate how tear gas can be safely and effectively used to quell rioters, criminals, or the criminally insane.

To this point, Tear Gas in Law Enforcement could have been shot anywhere in the interior west. But the focus tightens in the next scene: a dramatic re-enactment of police officers besieging a group of young thugs holed up in an abandoned warehouse. As Officer Friendly calls in his report to headquarters, we notice the name of his department painted on the door of his patrol car: Concord Police. Interesting. Yes, I suppose the film could have been shot during a hot Contra Costa summer—but there are plenty of other Concords around the nation. It’s pretty obvious this isn’t the one in New Hampshire, but perhaps there’s one in New Mexico, too?

Concord police car

As the film continues, however, the puzzle pieces fall into place. An angry demonstration is once again underway outside a factory. Not only are the demonstrators extremely loud and angry, they’re also surprisingly multi-racial. In fact the crowd is basically half African-American, half white. The camera pans away from them for a brief street shot. Good gosh, that really looks like the East Bay hills in the background!

East Bay hills as seen from West Berkeley, 1962

Panning back to the furious mob, we see this: Western Steel – Division United States Steel – Berkeley Plant. Wow! It’s 1962, we have a multi-racial crowd demonstrating in Berkeley, and here come the gas-masked fuzz to break it up! It’s like a dress rehearsal for the end of the decade, only with well-groomed demonstrators.

Berkeley P.D. don their gas masks
Protest outside Berkeley steel plant

Produced by the Golden State Film Corporation of Berkeley, California, Tear Gas in Law Enforcement is an amazing piece of cinema ephemera. And it IS ephemeral: not only will you find no reference to it on the internet, it doesn’t even earn a listing on TCM’s website. If there’s a reader out there who can tell me more about either the film or the company that made it, or even the precise location of the Western Steel plant, please get in touch! Likewise if you can identify the mob’s angry ringleader…

Who is this man?

This is the third post in an occasional series by John Seal on movies made in Berkeley. Read the first, on Hall Bartlett’s “Changes”, here; and the second, on “Harold and Maude”, here. John Seal writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movie’s Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.

John Seal

John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box...

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  1. It’s now 0530 on 3/20/2016 and am viewing this little gem for the third time in my life…it never gets old.

    I hope the Wold is still around the next time someone posts about this bit of marketing history from The Lake Erie Chemical Co.

    Semper Fi

  2. I was flipping through channels and made my way to TCM, I stopped there because where they were filming in the hills looked very familiar to me. I live in Walnut Creek Ca, which is in the East Bay, and about 15 to 20 min away from Berkeley. I’m 2 min away from Concord, where the hill scenes were filmed, and where the Concord police show up to throw smoke grenades under the house. The area they were filming in now has a Cal Hayward college extention, a fire house and housing developments known as Crystal Ranch and Montecito. It is located at the top of Cowell road and Ygnacio Valley road.

  3. Given that the film was produced/released in 1962, I wonder if the protest footage is a few years earlier than that. Perhaps the four month long steel strike of 1959?

  4. Searching around on the web:

    1962 was the year that Lake Erie Chemical Co. introduced tear gas to the commercial market. They are or were a division of Smith and Wesson (part of some kind of law enforcement group). The film you saw must have been a promotional film, sent around to various police departments.

    Do you remember when it was all the rage for some women in NYC to carry around cans of mace for personal protection? That appears to be a Lake Erie Chemical invention. It arose out of the “chemical baton” – originally targeted as a product for prison guards.

    Donning my stylish tin-foil hat:

    Never forget that the FBI arose out of Pinkerton Security whose rise to fame started with going and busting heads during a strike at a steel plant (!) in Pittsburgh, PA. There is, today, a plaque on the site commemorating the workers that died. The point is that, culturally, Hoover was not corrupting of the FBI he was reflective of its origins and bents: the organization comes out of a collective that is jealous of the ability to organize – it wants that all for itself. The rest of us are to follow a kind of Henry Ford paternalistic proscription and live the isolated white picket fence dream. There is an old, long streak of “anti-masses” corporate fascism there, in the FBI.

    And, similarly, in the 50s and 60s (as we learned in Congressional hearings during the 70s) the CIA was quite concerned about mass uprisings and had a fetish for “high tech” crowd control. (They still do.) Somewhat famously, some of the earliest most detailed study of wind patterns over the Bay Area were aimed at figuring out how effective it would be to disburse chemical agents from a high point in San Francisco to quell uprisings here (and, dually, how easy it would be an enemy to disburse some more harmful agent).

    That, of course, was synergistic with the military intel community who – following the lead of the Germans in WWII – were eager to explore ways to disable ground armies. If you can defeat ground troops by dropping them to the ground and then calmly walking around picking up their weapons and taking prisoners, why, then you’ve got something. Will an aerial spray do it? What’s the right compound?

    Thus, if you do a little bit more background research and formulate your FOIAs carefully, I’d bet a dollar to a donut you can find some close ties between the intel community and Lake Erie Chemical. (It’s sort of funny how, back in those days, before the intel community understood what the Internet would do — their covers were often quite weak.)

    Now, Berkeley. Well, you know, we *do* host that national lab up on yonder hill. Accounts from around the Manhattan project suggest that the town was once – in addition to its reputation as the home of 1930s communist intellectuals – was once lousy with spooks. Those details we can see from the history of COINTELPRO and MKULTRA don’t suggest that that pattern had let up by the early ’60s.

    Pretty much as you suggest: the film as you describe it rather strongly suggests strong intel ties/influences with local law enforcement. How often, back then, do you get a police department to help with your marketing film? What are the ties that bind, there? One does have to wonder to what degree this was the pure making of an ad vs. the conducting of a filmed simulation and experiment. It’d be interesting to see the footage that didn’t wind up in the released film. Investigative journalism may be all but dead in this country but if ever there were an area ripe for some FOIA action, this would be an example.

    As the 60s wore on, Berkeley became both a hotbed (because of a liberal subset of the intellectual community) and a honeypot (because of intel community agitators). It generated lots of people going out to support civil rights movement actions. There was that little Free Speech Movement thing. There was the anti-war movement. And, of course, there was the stand-off over what became the park. My read is that the spooks initially regarded Berkeley as their honeypot for suspicious persons, then felt it was getting out of control – and then Gov. Reagan and all that. And when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail – and among their hammers at the time was the tear gas.

    Nice find.