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New report documents pervasive use of military equipment in California law enforcement

The Oakland Police Department's use of military equipment (BearCat, AR-15s, 'beanbag' rounds) in the killing of Joshua Pawlik, March 2018 Photo: KTVU / AFSC

OAKLAND, CA (APRIL 11, 2022) Today the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) launched a major report and data visualization, Equipped for War: Exposing Militarized Policing in California, that analyzes the pervasive militarization of police and sheriff departments across the state. The report documents how law enforcement agencies have acquired large amounts of military-grade weapons, how these weapons are used, and the devastating impact on communities. The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that has worked for decades in California to end mass incarceration and police militarization. 

“We see over and over again the traumatic impact of militarized policing in California – especially on communities of color,” said Jennifer Tu, Ristad Fellow of AFSC and one of the report’s co-authors. “We need to examine and challenge both how and why law enforcement agencies acquire the resources to perpetuate this brutality. We hope this report will contribute to mitigating the violence communities face and encourage lawmakers to invest in community-led solutions for public safety.”

In 2021, California passed a bill called AB 481 that gives community members and elected officials insight and power to decide on military gear used by police. Based on more than 300 public records requests and nearly a year of work by AFSC’s research team, Equipped for War analyzes data on the purchase and deployment by police of military equipment, and the policies and transparency of law enforcement agencies across the state.

All police and sheriff departments in the state must publish information on military equipment and propose use policies for it by May 1, and local elected officials will hold public hearings on the policies. Equipped for War provides community members, advocates, and elected officials concerned with police militarization with tools and information to advocate for change.  

AFSC also joined 65 other community organizations today in a letter urging all city and county elected officials across California to support transparency and demilitarization in the implementation of AB 481. The letter calls on city and county governments to reject proposed use policies that do not comply with this legislation, increase risks of harm, or fail to guarantee civil liberties, and to listen to concerns about militarized policing from community members.

Militarized policing “has become embedded in the thinking, budgets, and institutional prerogatives of law enforcement officers and many civilians,” according to the report. “It is built on narratives of fear and racism, as well as history and culture that embraces the practices of war.”

On April 6, Orange Police Department was served with a lawsuit  filed by AFSC for its repeated refusal to disclose public records about the purchase and use of military equipment.

“We urge elected officials to ask hard questions about proposed use policies for military equipment submitted to them, to heed widespread community calls for demilitarization, and to reinvest resources used for militarized policing into community needs,” the Equipped for War report concludes.

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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.