California Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Regulate Law Enforcement’s Purchase and Acquisition of Military Equipment

Friday, March 23, 2018

Lawmakers propose AB 3131 to require law enforcement agencies to publicly disclose purchase and acquisition of military-grade equipment

SACRAMENTO, CA – California State Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) unveiled new legislation today that would require state and local law enforcement agencies to notify the public and receive approval from local governing bodies prior to the purchase and/or acquisition of military-grade equipment.

AB 3131, jointly authored by Chiu and Gloria, proposes a new, transparent public process in which law enforcement entities who wish to purchase, acquire, or seek funds for military equipment would be required to submit public documents, participate in a public hearing, and receive majority approval from their local governing body or oversight board before items can be acquired.

“Our streets in California are not war zones, and our citizens are not enemy combatants. Law enforcement in California are our partners in public safety. They are not military generals, and the weapons they carry should reflect that reality,” said Assemblymember David Chiu. “The Trump Administration reversed an Obama-era policy that restricted local law enforcement agencies from obtaining military grade weapons. We must pass AB 3131 to give the public necessary oversight on when and why a local law enforcement agency would need to acquire military grade weapons.”

“State and local law enforcement are a public safety service, not an occupying force. Militarization is not necessary in order to keep our neighborhoods safe,” said Assemblymember Todd Gloria. “If law enforcement determines it needs military-caliber equipment, I believe the public has a right to know. Not only will this create more transparency, but I believe it will ultimately help build trust between law enforcement and the people they are sworn to protect.”

AB 3131 comes after Federal Executive Order #13688, issued by President Obama, was rescinded by the Trump Administration. The order sought to better control the acquisition and deployment of surplus military equipment by local law enforcement who receive it under the U.S. Department of Defense’s 1033 program. The DOD’s 1033 program allows surplus military equipment to be transferred to municipal police departments for free.

Under AB 3131, law enforcement agencies would need to draft and submit a “military equipment impact statement” and a “military equipment use policy” to their local governing body for review at a public hearing. The military equipment impact statement is intended to describe each piece of military equipment as well as its intended use. The military equipment use policy would dictate the specific purpose the equipment is intended to achieve and its authorized uses.

Both documents would need to be publicly released prior to a hearing, and the local governing body must adopt the documents by ordinance before the department could carry out the purchase or acquisition.

The bill defines military equipment to include items such as manned and unmanned aircraft; wheeled armored and tactical vehicles; weaponized vehicles (such as MRAPs or Humvees); breaching apparatus designed to provide rapid entry into a building; firearms/ammunition of .50 caliber or greater; explosives; riot gear including batons, helmets, and shields; and long-range acoustic devices.  AB 3131 is sponsored by Indivisible California and the ACLU of California.

“We know that people of color are more likely to be killed by the police than white people and that 99% of cases have led to the officer being acquitted,” said Jiggy Athilingam, co-founder of Indivisible CA: State Strong and the state & local policy manager for Indivisible Project. “Trump’s reversal of President Obama’s executive order is a blatant attempt to militarize our police force, which is in line with his white supremacist agenda. Our police should not need military grade weaponry to carry out their duties and if they do, we, the people, should know how and why they are using these weapons.”

“Policing has become dangerously and unnecessarily militarized, with low-income people and people of color bearing the brunt of the harms over the years,” said Lizzie Buchen, legislative advocate for the ACLU of California, who is a sponsor of the bill. “California residents should have a say over agencies’ decisions to acquire military equipment because our neighborhoods are not warzones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies.”

Over the last several decades, the acquisition of military equipment by state and local entities has become more frequent. In 2014, the Los Angeles School Police Department received 61 M16 assault rifles, three M79 grenade launchers, and one mine-resistant vehicle. That same year, the San Diego Unified School District acquired a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, but ultimately returned it following negative responses from the community.

If enacted, AB 3131 would go into effect on January 1, 2019. Law enforcement agencies that currently possess military-grade equipment, as defined in the bill, would need to have the approval process in place with their governing body by May 1, 2019.

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