MONTCLAIR, Calif. (March 10, 2022) – On Jan. 1, a California law went into effect that creates oversight and accountability for federal programs that militarize local police. We’re beginning to see the practical impact of this new law.

The new California state law (AB481) requires all law enforcement agencies to get local government approval before obtaining military equipment through federal programs, and they must also get approval for existing equipment.

Under the law, police departments are required to develop a detailed military equipment use policy and present it in an open meeting before obtaining military equipment. After the public meeting, the local governing body will either approve or deny the acquisition. Law enforcement agencies are also required to get local government approval prior to May 1, 2022, in order to continue using military equipment already in the department’s possession as of Jan. 1, 2022.

To comply with the law, the Montclair Police Department submitted an inventory and use policy last month. Yesterday, the Montclair City Council heard the first read of the inventory and policy. A final vote is scheduled for March 21.

The Montclair police department will have to get approval to continue using an armored personnel carrier, called the Peacekeeper. The police department acquired the APC in 2002. According to the inventory document, the vehicle “is to be used in response to critical incidents to enhance officer and community safety, improve scene containment and stabilization, assist in resolving critical incidents, or display at a community event that is taking place.”

Other items on the police department’s inventory include tear gas, shotguns that propel bean bags, remote launchers of a kind of pepper spray or powder, and 24 Colt carbine rifles that are affixed inside patrol cars.

It’s highly unlikely people in the community knew their police had this equipment prior to the disclosure.

City officials expressed displeasure with the law. Councilman Ben Lopez said the state doesn’t provide funding for the extra staff time necessary to comply with the law. Mayor John Dutrey said the law should “apply to criminals.”

The implementation of this state law will not end the militarization, but as we see in Montclair, it does create oversight and transparency. The people in that community can urge their elected representatives to deny approval of any military item on the list. They can also block the acquisition of future military gear.

FEDERAL SURPLUS AND GRANT MONEY

Police can get military-grade weapons through a number of federal programs, including the 1033 program, and via the Department of Homeland Security through the (DHS) “Homeland Security Grant Program.” The DHS doles out over $1 billion in counterterrorism funds to state and local police each year. 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. Biden was reportedly planning to reinstitute the Obama policy, but to date has not followed through. Regardless, the Biden “reform” was nothing more than window-dressing. In practice, the Obama EO did little to stem the flow of military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.

Even if Biden eventually gets around to putting the Obama-era limits back in place, the 1033 program would remain essentially intact. Military gear would continue to pour into local police agencies, just as it did when Obama was in the White House.

The multiple federal flip-flops underscore the importance of putting limits on police militarization at the state and local level. Federal policy tends to change depending on the party in power. Whatever limits Biden imposes through executive order can be undone with a stroke of the next president’s pen. The only way to effectively end police militarization for good is permanently withdrawing the state from these federal programs.

While the enactment of AB481 will not end police militarization or stop government surveillance, it would take the first step by creating a framework for accountability and transparency for programs in California. It would also 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. The enactment of AB481 first step toward limiting federal militarization of local police in California.

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