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Californians Now Have Say in Whether Their Local Police Force Looks Like a Military Outpost

by Douglas Ankney

With the passage of A.B. 481, Californians have a say as to whether their local police agency looks like a military outpost.

For years, the U.S. military has given local law enforcement agencies weapons of war that are designed to engage foreign adversaries on the battlefield, including tanks, unmanned drones, and MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles). But beginning in May of 2022, A.B. 481 “requires democratic control of whether California state or local law enforcement agencies can obtain or use military-grade tools, regardless of how it’s obtained.”

The first step under A.B. 481 to enable an agency to get military gear is the agency must post “a publicly available, written document that would govern the state or local agency’s use of this military equipment” that (1) addresses the legal rules governing use of the equipment, (2) outlines the training required, and (3) describes the procedure by which the public can make complaints.

A police agency then “needs to get the approval of the jurisdiction’s governing body, like the City Council, in the form of a public meeting.” All relevant materials, including the “use policy,” must be on the agency’s website at least 30 days in advance of the public meeting. Residents in opposition to the equipment can use that month to organize. A.B. 481 also mandates agencies obtain approval by the end of 2022 for military equipment already in their possession. If unable to obtain approval, the agency must cease using the equipment.

A.B. 481 also requires agencies to prepare an annual military equipment report that includes: “the quantity possessed for each type of military equipment; a summary of how and for what purpose the military equipment was used; a summary of any complaints or concerns received concerning the military equipment; the results of any internal audits; any information about violations of the use policy and the consequences; the total annual cost for each type of military equipment, including acquisition, personnel, training, transportation, maintenance, storage, upgrade, and other ongoing costs, and from what source funds will be drawn the following year; and the quantity sought for each type of additional military equipment the law enforcement agency intends to acquire in the next year.”

As with all public-accountability measures, law enforcement agencies are grumbling over their need to make the disclosures under A.B.481 — so watchdog groups need to be alert to report any and all noncompliance. 


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