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Campaign to #DemilitarizeOPD

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

 Many communities are concerned about police departments’ acquisition and deployment of military-grade equipment in events ranging from public protests to parades and service of drug warrants. In Oakland, the use of grenade-like projectiles, armored vehicles, and military-grade assault weapons by OPD officers has resulted in harm to residents, controversy, and costly lawsuits. In March 2018, Oakland police used the tank-like BearCat armored vehicle as a shooting platform and AR-15 rifles in the killing of Joshua Pawlik.

Oakland PD uses force disproportionately against black residents. And several studies conclude that police departments that acquire military-grade equipment are more likely to use violence and are no more successful in reducing crime.

Yet Oakland has no policy for the acquisition or use of militarized equipment. Oakland PD can acquire and use military equipment of all kinds - anywhere, at any time, with no policy for its use or public reporting of what is has or how it is used.

Now Oakland has an opportunity to exercise community control over the militarization of policing in Oakland, by adopting an ordinance that will require approval by the City Council for the acquisition of military equipment, and use policies and reporting for military equipment that OPD has or obtains.

The proposed ordinance will require that the civilian Oakland Police Commission review proposed acquisitions and use policies for armored vehicles, assault weapons, weaponized aircraft, battering rams, sonic weapons, and flashbang grenades. This will apply to equipment that OPD acquires with grants or with purchases from the city budget. The proposal is modeled on Oakland’s surveillance equipment ordinance.

For more information, contact John Lindsay-Poland of American Friends Service Committee, 510-282-8983. Read the draft ordinance here.

Community Organizations Letter to Oakland City Council and Oakland Police Commission

September 26, 2019

Dear Council Members and Commissioners:

 We urge you to support a local ordinance that empowers the Oakland Police Commission and City Council to protect our communities against unnecessary police militarization and requires transparency for the equipment that the Oakland Police Departments acquires and deploys.

The acquisition and use of military-grade equipment by civilian law enforcement agencies does not reduce crime, [1] but it does contribute to substantial fear in the community and a warrior mentality among officers. Several studies conclude that police departments that acquire military-grade equipment are more likely to use violence. [2] 

Last year, Oakland police used a BearCat armored vehicle as a “shooting platform” for officers armed with AR-15 assault rifles. Police used this equipment to kill an unconscious man. During the 2011 Occupy protests, the OPD fired “specialty munitions” at Scott Olsen and other activists. Olsen suffered a fractured skull, and his injuries prompted a lawsuit that the City resolved with a $4.5 million settlement. The OPD deploys military-grade equipment during public protests, parades, local street festivals, and while serving warrants.

There is almost no publicly-available information about what military-grade equipment OPD possesses or how it is used. There is no established process for community representatives to set policy for the equipment OPD should use moving forward, and there is little policy in place to provide oversight for the military-grade equipment that the OPD has already acquired.

It’s time for the community to know what equipment OPD has and have a say in whether and how it will be used. The proposed ordinance empowers the Police Commission to review and approve OPD requests for military-grade acquisitions, and mandates that the OPD submit use policies to the Commission for equipment that the department already has. Oakland has an equivalent ordinance for surveillance equipment that functions well. A similar ordinance on military equipment will provide the City Council, Police Commission and the public with important tools to oversee the police working in our neighborhoods and to place appropriate restrictions on counterproductive uses of militarized equipment.

Oakland has a chance to set a precedent for transparency in the use and acquisition of military-grade weapons for civilian law enforcement. We urge you to advance this legislation.


67 Sueños
All of Us or None
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Northern California
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP)
Arab Resource Organizing Center (AROC)
BAY Peace
Causa Justa / Just Cause
California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance (CIYJA)
Coalition for Police Accountability
Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ)
East Oakland Collective
East Point Peace Academy
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Faith in Action East Bay
First Congregational Church of Oakland, Public Prophetic Witness
First Unitarian Church of Oakland, Justice Committee
Human Impact Partners
Indivisible East Bay
Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity
Jewish Voice for Peace Bay Area
Justice Reinvestment Coalition
Media Alliance
Neighbors for Racial Justice
Oakland Privacy
Oscar Grant Committee
Restore Oakland
Secure Justice
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Bay Area
Urban Peace Movement
Urban Strategies
Veterans for Peace East Bay Chapter
Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club
Xicana Moratorium Coalition
YWCA Berkeley/ Oakland


[1] Jonathan Mummolo, “Militarization fails to enhance police safety or reduce crime but may harm police reputation,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 11, 2018 (37) 9181-9186.

[2] Casey Delehanty, Jack Mewhirter, Ryan Welch and Jason Wilks, “Militarization and police violence: The case of the 1033 program,” Research and Politics, April-June 2017, 1-7; and Edward Lawson Jr., “Police Militarization and the Use of Lethal Force,” Political Research Quarterly, 2018, 1-13.

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