California Committee Passes Bill Taking on Federal Militarization of Local Police

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (April 20, 2018) – On Wednesday, a California Assembly committee passed a bill that would require law enforcement agencies in the state to get local governmental approval before acquiring or using military equipment. Passage of the bill into law would set the stage to limit federal programs that militarize local police.

Asm. Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) and Asm. David Chu (D- San Francisco) introduced Assembly Bill 3131 (AB3131) in February. The legislation would require state and local law enforcement agencies to get local government approval by the adoption of a military equipment impact statement and a military equipment use policy at a public meeting before seeking funding for, acquiring, or using military equipment. The bill would also require approval for the continued use of any military equipment acquired prior to January 1, 2019.

AB3131 includes a long of items under the definition of “military equipment,” including but not limited to, manned aircraft; unmanned aerial vehicles; wheeled or tracked armored vehicles, including mine-resistant and ambush-protected vehicles; tactical vehicles and vessels; command and control vehicles; firearms and ammunition with a caliber of .50 caliber or higher; specialized firearms and ammunition of less than .50 caliber; any firearm or firearm accessory that is designed to launch small, explosive projectiles; bayonets; explosives and concussion devices; riot batons, riot helmets, and riot shields, but excluding service-issued telescopic or fixed-length straight batons; and more. The proposed law would also empower the state attorney general to add equipment to the list.

The impact statement would have to include the purpose of the equipment, estimates the fiscal impact, and an assessment specifically identifying any potential impacts that the use of military equipment might have on the welfare, safety, civil rights, and civil liberties of the public, along with measures to safeguard the public from adverse impacts.

The Assembly Committee on Local Government passed AB3131 by a 6-3 vote.

AB3131 would apply both to the well-known 1033 program, along with any other military surplus program operated by the federal government. It would also apply to purchases of military-grade gear on the open market. 

Police departments often obtain military and surveillance equipment from the federal government in complete secrecy. Requiring local government approval would bring the process into the open and provide an opportunity for concerned residents to stop the acquisition through their local representatives.

FEDERAL SURPLUS AND GRANT MONEY

Through the federal 1033 Program, local police departments procure military grade weapons.Police can also get military equipment through the Department of Homeland Security via the (DHS) “Homeland Security Grant Program.” In 2013, DHS gave more than $900 million in counterterrorism funds to state and local police. According to a 2012 Senate report, this money has been used to purchase tactical vehicles, drones, and even tanks with little obvious benefit to public safety. And, according to ProPublica, “In 1994, the Justice Department and the Pentagon-funded a five-year program to adapt military security and surveillance technology for local police departments that they would otherwise not be able to afford.”

In August 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that gave a push to local police militarization. Trump’s action rescinded an Obama-era policy meant to provide greater transparency and oversight around the Department of Defense 1033 program and other federal resources that provide military weapons to local police.

AB3131 would stop police from getting military equipment without local government approval in California.This would ensure accountability and transparency, and create a foundation for the public to stop their local police from obtaining this type of gear.

COMMAND AND CONTROL

Arming ‘peace officers’ like they’re ready to occupy an enemy city is totally contrary to the society envisioned by the Founders. They’ve turned ‘protect and serve’ into ‘command and control.’

In the 1980s, the federal government began arming, funding and training local police forces, turning peace officers into soldiers to fight in its unconstitutional “War on Drugs.” The militarization went into hyper-drive after 9/11 when a second front opened up – the “War on Terror.”

By making it more difficult for local police to get this military-grade gear and surveillance technology, and ensuring they can’t do it in secret, it makes them less likely to cooperate with the feds and removes incentives for partnerships. Passage of this bill would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in California.

WHAT’S NEXT

AB3131 now moves to the Assembly Committee on Public Safety where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.

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