SACRAMENTO, Calif. (June 13, 2021) – Two California Senate committees have passed a bill that would set the foundation for local communities to opt out of federal programs that militarize their police.
Asm. David Chiu (D) and a coalition of Democrats introduced Assembly Bill 481 (AB481) on Feb. 8. The legislation would require law enforcement agencies to get local government approval before obtaining military equipment through federal programs.
Under the proposed law, police departments would be required to develop a military equipment use policy and present it in an open meeting before obtaining military equipment. After the public meeting, the local governing body would either approve or deny the acquisition. Law enforcement agencies would also be required to get local government approval prior to May 1, 2022, in order to continue using military equipment already in the department’s possession.
AB481 defines military equipment as “weapons, arms, military supplies, and equipment that readily may be used for military purposes including, but not limited to, all of the following: radar systems or military-grade transport vehicles.”
The legislation applies both to the well-known 1033 program along with any other military surplus program operated by the federal government.
On June 29, the Senate Public Safety Committee passed AB481 by a 4-1 vote with an amendment. On July 8, the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance passed the bill, also by a 4-1 vote. The Assembly previously passed the measure by a 50-22 vote.
The Senate amendment stipulates, “Nothing in this chapter shall preclude a county or local municipality from implementing additional requirements and standards related to the purchase, use, and reporting of military equipment by local law enforcement agencies.”
While passage of AB481 wouldn’t end the militarization, it would make it more difficult for police to obtain such weapons and equipment, and set the stage for further limits in the future.
FEDERAL SURPLUS AND GRANT MONEY
Police can get military-grade weapons through a number of federal programs, including the 1033 program, and via the Department of Homeland Security through the (DHS) “Homeland Security Grant Program.” The DHS doles out over $1 billion in counterterrorism funds to state and local police each year. According to a 2012 Senate report, this money has been used to purchase tactical vehicles, drones, and even tanks with little obvious benefit to public safety. And, according to ProPublica, “In 1994, the Justice Department and the Pentagon-funded a five-year program to adapt military security and surveillance technology for local police departments that they would otherwise not be able to afford.”
In August 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that gave a push to local police militarization. Trump’s action rescinded an Obama-era policy meant to provide greater transparency and oversight around the Department of Defense 1033 program and other federal resources that provide military weapons to local police. Biden will reportedly reinstitute the Obama policy, but it was nothing more than window-dressing. In practice, the Obama EO did little to stem the flow of military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.
Even with the Obama-era limits back in place, the 1033 program will remain essentially intact. Military gear will continue to pour into local police agencies, just as it did when Obama was in the White House.
Even if you see the Obama/Biden limits as a positive, the multiple federal flip-flops underscore the importance of putting limits on police militarization at the state and local level. Federal policy tends to change depending on the party in power. Whatever limits Biden imposes through executive order can be undone with a stroke of the next president’s pen. The only way to effectively end police militarization for good is permanently withdrawing the state from these federal programs.
While the passage of AB481 wouldn’t end police militarization or stop government surveillance, it would take the first step by creating a framework for accountability and transparency for programs in California. It would also create a foundation for the public to stop their local police from obtaining this type of gear.
COMMAND AND CONTROL
Arming ‘peace officers’ like they’re ready to occupy an enemy city is totally contrary to the society envisioned by the founders. They’ve turned ‘protect and serve’ into ‘command and control.’
In the 1980s, the federal government began arming, funding and training local police forces, turning peace officers into soldiers to fight in its unconstitutional “War on Drugs.” The militarization went into hyper-drive after 9/11 when a second front opened up – the “War on Terror.”
By making it more difficult for local police to get this military-grade gear and surveillance technology, and ensuring they can’t do it in secret, it makes them less likely to cooperate with the feds and removes incentives for partnerships. Passage of AB481 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in California.
AB481 will move to the Senate Appropriations Committee where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.