SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Sept. 11, 2015) – A California bill that would stop transfers of some battlefield-ready military equipment to state or local law enforcement agencies was given final approval in the state legislature yesterday and now heads to the governor’s desk.
Introduced by Asm. Nora Campos (D-San Jose), Assembly Bill 36 (AB36) would unconditionally ban law enforcement agencies in the state from receiving from federal surplus programs, “tracked armored vehicles, weaponized vehicles, firearms or ammunition greater than .50 caliber, grenade launchers, bayonets and camouflage uniforms.”
Via the Pentagon’s 1033 Program and funding programs from the DHS and elsewhere, the federal government provides local law enforcement with aircraft, armored vehicles, automatic weapons, night vision equipment and more – originally intended for use on the battlefield – at little or no cost.
By banning law enforcement from acquiring some of the most battlefield-ready equipment, AB36 would take a powerful first step toward nullifying the federal program in practice.
The bill would also prohibit most local agencies from applying to receive other “tactical surplus military equipment”…unless the legislative body of the local agency votes to approve the acquisition by ordinance or resolution. This sets the foundation for local communities to stop federal programs that militarize local police with equipment such as non-weaponized MRAPs or surveillance tools such as drones.
The original text of the bill required local approval in an open meeting before any law enforcement agency could acquire federal surplus military equipment. This is similar to a new law passed in New Jersey this year, creating the foundation for local communities to reject these federal militarization programs.The original bill also applied the approval requirement to all state agencies.
After passing in this form out of the state Assembly by a 56-12 vote in May, the Senate took the bill up and approved it with some significant amendments.
First, the Senate version of the bill goes far beyond just requiring local approval and includes an outright ban the acquisition of certain battlefield-ready military equipment for all law enforcement in the state. This includes “tracked armored vehicles, weaponized vehicles, firearms or ammunition greater than .50 caliber, grenade launchers, bayonets and camouflage uniforms.”
“This is an extremely positive development and begins to mirror the strong ban passed into law in Montana earlier this year,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said. “Local law enforcement doesn’t need to be armed like they’re ready to invade and occupy Fallujah, and this part of AB36 takes a step towards ending that kind of practice in California.”
Not all of the amendments were positive.
The Senate also exempted law enforcement agencies headed by an elected officer – essentially county sheriff departments – from the requirement of local government approval. Finally, the Senate inserted provisions that would have created a mechanism for local government to approve applications for military gear in a closed session.
The Assembly rejected the amendment authorizing closed meeting approvals and sent the bill back to the Senate.
The Senate passed the amended version of AB36 by a 33-3 vote. The Assembly approved the other Senate amendments 78-0 Thursday. The bill now moves to Gov. Brown’s desk for a signature or veto.
Almost 13,000 agencies in all 50 states and four U.S. territories participate in the military “recycling” program, and the share of equipment and weaponry gifted each year continues to expand. In 2011, $500 million worth of military equipment was distributed to law enforcement agencies throughout the country. That number jumped to $546 million in 2012.
Since 1990, $4.2 billion worth of equipment has been transferred from the Defense Department to domestic police agencies through the 1033 program, in addition to various other programs supposedly aimed at fighting the so-called War on Drugs and War on Terror.
The Office of Emergency Services (OES) is responsible for administering the 1033 Program in California. It keeps an up-to-date inventory of federal military transfers occurring within the state. However, according to the Assembly on Local Government’s analysis of AB36, the OES has not made that information publicly available on their website. Recently, the cities of Davis and San Jose decided to return surplus equipment acquired under the program.
Banning some of the most notorious battlefield weapons would put a big dent in these federal programs that militarize police. Making other equipment subject to local approval gives communities a chance to block these programs even further, but additional legislation should be passed to close the loophole created by allowing the decision to be made in secret and ensure that that local meetings are held in the open as the Ralph M. Brown Act currently requires. This will ensure that the public can have an impact on the process.
In March, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law requiring local government approval before law enforcement can apply for military gear, making his state the first in the country to push questions of federal militarization to the local level. A broader bill, with an outright ban on receiving certain military weapons or even purchasing them with federal grants was signed into law earlier this year by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Similar bills are up for consideration in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Washington State.
“While we strongly support the ban on some battlefield equipment for law enforcement in California, the sections weakened by the Senate mean that this bill is just a first step, and those who want to end federal militarization programs have more work to do,” said Boldin. “As James Madison taught us, refusing to cooperate with federal programs in multiple states is the most effective way to bring them down.”
For California: Take steps to support this bill at THIS LINK.
For other states: Take action to push back against federal militarization of your police at this link.