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California Law Enforcement Agencies in Violation of State Law on Military Equipment

More than a third of California’s twenty largest law enforcement agencies have not complied with a new state law that requires police and sheriff departments to post information and proposed use policies for the militarized equipment and weaponry they own by May 1st.

California Highway Patrol, sheriff departments in Los Angeles and San Francisco Counties, and police departments in San Francisco, San Jose, Long Beach, and Oakland failed to disclose their militarized equipment and propose use policies by the date set by AB 481. The legislation requires local oversight by elected officials for law enforcement uses of armored vehicles, assault rifles, chemical agents and “less lethal” munitions, drones and robots, long range acoustic devices, and other equipment often used by SWAT teams, which may have been acquired from any source.

Law enforcement agencies’ failure to post military equipment policies by the May 1st deadline appears to render all use of the equipment illegal under the new state law, until the agencies begin the process of approval by city councils and county supervisors by posting the proposed policies.  

Other law enforcement agencies that failed to post military equipment policies as of May 1st include sheriff departments in Stanislaus, Fresno, San Luis Obispo, Marin, Imperial, Humboldt, Mendocino, Solano, and Sutter Counties, and police departments in Bakersfield, Inglewood, Santa Rosa, and Vallejo. (By May 6, Marin County Sheriff's Office and Long Beach and San Jose PDs posted their proposed military equipment policies.)

Most law enforcement agencies that did post proposed policies for militarized equipment did not include all components of information and use policies required by AB 481, such as incorporating restrictions on the use of tear gas and impact projectiles for crowd control required by another state law, AB 48; describing the situations for authorized uses of the equipment; or identifying independent oversight for the use of militarized equipment.

Oakland PD failed to post a proposed military equipment policy despite a local ordinance adopted last year that also requires it, in addition to AB 481. At that time, the Oakland City Council agreed to fund an additional OPD staff person to develop policies required by the ordinance. But OPD has not submitted a single policy for military equipment to the Oakland Police Commission in compliance with the Oakland ordinance and AB 481.

Militarized gear and uses of force by police are deployed disproportionately against people of color, several studies show. Last month, more than 70 organizations called on city councils and county supervisors to make militarized equipment transparent, act to demilitarize law enforcement, and fully implement AB 481.

 Los Angeles PD’s proposed military equipment policy discloses that LAPD has an arsenal of 4,087 assault rifles and shotguns (including 750 assault rifles that LAPD estimates its officers privately acquire annually), 141 machine and submachine guns, six .50 caliber rifles that can fire more than a mile, and seven armored BearCat vehicles, with a request for two more such vehicles. `

The state’s prison agency, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), is the nation’s third largest law enforcement agency. CDCR posted the types of chemical agents and impact munitions it uses in prisons, but did not identify how many such weapons it possesses, authorized uses, the training required, complaint processes, or independent oversight, as required by AB 481. In a study published last month, American Friends Service Committee found that CDCR spent more than $45 million on firearms, chemical agents, and munitions from 2015 to 2021, for a prison population of no more than 120,000, and reported 1,112 uses of tear gas and 903 uses of impact rounds in a 23-month period— more than 51 other agencies combined.

City councils in Culver City, Hayward, Santa Cruz, Chula Vista and other communities have heard extensive community comments about proposed military equipment policies, calling for demilitarization and transparency. Santa Cruz City Council instructed its police department to add standard issue assault rifles to the list of equipment regulated under the law. Hayward City Council heard from community activists who said they were grading councilmembers on their commitment to establish independent police oversight and move funds out of military equipment into community services. Culver City’s City Council heard from more than 50 community members and agreed to take the full six months allowed by AB 481 to revise the proposed military equipment policy.

 While some police departments prominently posted the proposed policies, other agencies buried military equipment policies in hard-to-access pages on their web sites, then claimed that there was little community comment about them.

 For more information, contact John Lindsay-Poland, jlindsay-poland@afsc.org, 510-282-8983.