SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Oct. 9, 2015) – On Wednesday, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have stopped transfers of some battlefield-ready military equipment to state or local law enforcement agencies.
His reasoning was a load of crap.
Introduced by Asm. Nora Campos (D-San Jose), Assembly Bill 36 (AB36) would have unconditionally banned 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.”
The bill would have also prohibited 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 would have set 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.
In his veto message, Brown called the legislation unnecessary because an executive order signed by Pres. Obama “will implement a similar requirement for governing bodies to grant approval of surplus military equipment.” He also claimed the bill didn’t strike the proper balance between transparency and “security.”
“Transparency is important between law enforcement and the communities they serve, but it must be tempered by security considerations before revealing law enforcement equipment shortages in a public hearing. This bill fails to strike the proper balance.”
Both of Brown’s rationales came out of a dung heap.
AB36 not only required local approval. It outright banned state and local law enforcement agencies from procuring some of the most dangerous and destructive military equipment. With his veto pen, Brown ensured California cops can still get their hands on weaponized vehicles – you know – tanks.
In terms of obtaining local government approval, the existence of an executive order doesn’t make a state requirement unnecessary. This president, or the next, can rescind or revise that EO at any time. Do the people of California really want to depend on the whim of a president to ensure they have a say when police want to get their hands on military equipment? Had Gov. Brown signed AB36, it would have ensured law enforcement agencies could not militarize themselves without at least having some public oversight, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.
Furthermore, EO 13688 does NOT mandate that an agency get local governing body approval. Yes, it does require a requesting agency to include evidence that it has received such approval on its application. But even if the law enforcement agency does not get local government approval, it doesn’t automatically disqualify it from receiving the military equipment. The information on the application is only meant to “provide decision-makers with a clearer understanding of an LEA’s capacity and need for using the controlled equipment.” The feds do not have to reject the application if it indicates no local government approval.
In other words, local government approval is only one of many criteria decision-makers will use to determine whether an agency receives requested military gear. No federal mandate for such approval exists.
Finally, Brown’s “too much transparency” claim also falls flat.
He makes it sound like it will reveal some kind of state secret if the public knows the Los Angeles Police Department wants to procure .50 caliber machine guns. AB36 addressed specialized military equipment, not everyday gear that every law enforcement agency buys through normal channels. To say it would somehow reveal a weakness, or departmental “shortages” to require a public hearing when a police department tries to get an armored tank or a supply of grenades is beyond ridiculous.
We will never know why Brown ultimately vetoed this bill, but presumably, he bowed to a powerful California law enforcement lobby that opposes virtually any limits on police what-so-ever.