After summer protests saw police use of military equipment on peaceful demonstrators, legislation will require local approval prior to procuring military equipment
Sacramento, CA—Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) announced a bill today to curb the trend towards increasingly militarized local police departments. Assembly Bill 481 would require local law enforcement agencies to get authorization from their local governing bodies before acquiring military equipment.
“Our streets in California are not war zones, and our citizens are not enemy combatants,” said Assemblymember Chiu. “Law enforcement are our community partners in public safety. They are not military generals, and the weapons and equipment they use should reflect that reality. If we learned anything from last summer’s protests, it is that local communities should have a say in how they are policed. This bill gives residents a voice.”
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd last summer, peaceful demonstrators and journalists across the country and in California were met with increasingly militarized police forces. In Walnut Creek and Orange, police used military vehicles including Lenco BearCats to disperse peaceful protestors. When and how the vehicles were deployed was left up to the individual officers at the scene with no consistent protocol. Sacramento police donned riot helmets and aimed assault rifles from armored vehicles at peaceful demonstrators to clear an assembled crowd.
Local law enforcement acquire military equipment through discounted purchase from private companies and through the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) 1033 Program, which allows the free transfer of surplus U.S. military equipment to municipal police departments. While the 1033 Program is popular with participation from over 8,000 federal and state law enforcement agencies from all 50 states, California’s police departments have procured the most military weaponry through the DOD. Despite the proliferation of use of military equipment by local law enforcement, the procurement of these weapons and equipment occurs without local oversight or public dialogue.
The trend towards militarized police forces can create a propensity towards increased use of force. A 2019 study of the 1033 Program found a positive correlation between increased police militarization and the number of times police kill suspects.
Under AB 481, law enforcement agencies would need to receive approval from their local governing body before acquiring military equipment or seeking funds for equipment purchases. The bill requires law enforcement agencies to draft a Military Equipment Impact Statement and a Military Equipment Use Policy to describe each piece of military equipment desired and the authorized uses for each piece of equipment. These policies would be publicly released prior to a hearing of the local governing body, and the local governing body must adopt the policies by ordinance before law enforcement could carry out the purchase or acquisition.
The definition of military equipment under AB 481 includes manned and unmanned aircrafts; wheeled armored and tactical vehicles; bayonets and long knives; firearms or ammunition of .50 caliber or greater; explosives; riot gear including batons, helmets, and shields; and long-range acoustic devices.
Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose), Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), and Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) are coauthors of AB 481. Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, PolicyLink, Stop Terrorism and Oppression by Police Coalition, and the Women’s Foundation California are cosponsoring AB 481.
“Increased militarization of police departments leads to increased civilian deaths, and militarized policing teams are more often deployed in communities of color,” said Rocio Zamora and Maria Hoyt of the Stop Terrorism and Oppression by Police Coalition. “Members of our team have been personally harmed by these practices as we have lost loved ones to militarized policing. For example, a San Diego sheriff’s deputy shot Sergio Weick 28 times with high caliber ammunition (hollow point bullets) and just months later, the same sheriff’s deputy shot Jonathon Coronel 22 times with high caliber ammunition. Both of these men were Latino fathers.”
AB 481 is expected to be heard in an Assembly policy committee this spring.