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AFSC files lawsuit against Orange Police Department for refusal to turn over public records on weapons

Youth take part in an action in Washington, D.C. calling on policymakers to demilitarize our federal budget and invest in communities.  Photo: Bryan Vana / AFSC

OAKLAND, CA (April 8, 2022) On April 6, the Orange Police Department  was served with lawsuit by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) for unlawfully denying a California Public Records Act request for information on the purchase and deployment of militarized equipment. The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that has worked for decades in California to end mass incarceration and police militarization. AFSC is being represented by Sara Kohgadai and Abenicio Cisneros in the litigation.  

“Militarized police forces bring dangerous weaponry into communities – especially Black and Brown communities – with devastating results,” said John Lindsay-Poland, AFSC’s California Healing Justice Co-director. “We hope that this lawsuit, and our efforts to increase transparency and accountability for law enforcement agencies across the state, will help mitigate the harm and violence caused by militarized policing.”

This lawsuit is part of an effort by AFSC to provide the public with information about militarized policing and organize for law enforcement agency compliance with recently passed California laws that put limits on the acquisition and use of weapons by police departments. A new law, AB 481, requires police agencies to disclose what militarized equipment they have and submit use policies by May 1, 2022 for a range of militarized gear, acquired from any source. AFSC filed more than 300 Public Records Act requests to police and sheriff departments since July 2021 for records related to militarized equipment.

“We requested records from law enforcement agencies across California to support community awareness and advocacy for transparency and demilitarization of policing in the state,” said Jennifer Tu, AFSC’s Ristad Fellow. “AB 481 is the first law of its kind, which will shine an unprecedented light on policing in cities and counties across California and can serve as a model for states across the country.”

AFSC requested purchase and deployment records for assault rifles, ‘less lethal’ launchers and munitions, armored vehicles and other gear. More than 100 agencies have provided copies of detailed invoices for purchases, and dozens have provided incident reports or summaries deployments of the weaponry. On October 4, the Orange Police Department denied the request on the basis of security and ‘anti-terrorism’ grounds, that records are deliberative, or that they reveal personal identifying information – among others, all which are not applicable exemptions for the requested records.

AFSC is using the information gathered through public records requests to produce advocacy tools, a database, and an extensive report titled “Equipped for War: Exposing Militarized Policing in California.” AFSC will provide ongoing support to California communities seeking transparency and demilitarization of police. 

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The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) promotes a world free of violence, inequality, and oppression. Guided by the Quaker belief in the divine light within each person, we nurture the seeds of change and the respect for human life to fundamentally transform our societies and institutions.