California residents finally have a law designed to dismantle some of the secrecy surrounding domestic acquisitions of war zone surveillance equipment.
US Army weapons – drones, mobile command centers, sound cannons, etc. – have been turned over to local law enforcement for years. The transfers have provided law enforcement agencies with the ability to redirect surveillance tools and weapons of war designed for foreign adversaries to often unimpeachable targets on American soil. For the police departments obtaining the equipment, the process is often secret. If you think your local police don’t really need an aerial surveillance system, or for that matter an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle), there’s not much you can do to prevent them from joining your neighborhood police department’s arsenal.
BA 481a new law of the State of California, went into effect at the early May 2022 for equipment already in the possession of agencies and at the start of the year for new technologies. This requires democratic control over whether California state or local law enforcement agencies can obtain or use military-grade tools, whether received from the federal government, purchased, or used through another channel. . Through their elected officials, the public can say “no” to military surveillance and other technologies, and they won’t be allowed to come to town.
AB 481 requires democratic control over whether California state or local law enforcement agencies can obtain or use military-grade tools, regardless of how they are obtained.
These democratic control measures include the creation of draft usage policies that must be publicly posted, an opportunity for residents to organize and be heard, and a vote by the governing body at a meeting. public. If the proposal is approved, then the police must provide regular reports on how the equipment has been used, and the public body must carry out annual compliance reviews. The bill also requires agencies already in possession of military equipment to obtain approval from the governing body by the end of 2022, or else cease using it.
AB 481 is modeled after community control of police surveillance (CCOPS) laws passed in 18 communities across the country. It was sponsored by the Women’s Foundation of California, the Women’s Policy Institute, the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, and the Stop Terror and Oppression by Police (STOP) Coalition. When the CCOPS ensures democratic control over the local acquisition and use of all kinds of surveillance technologies, AB 481 ensures democratic control over the local acquisition and use of military technologies (including military surveillance technologies).
In California, there are more than 500 local law enforcement agencies, and the state is a major beneficiary of military transfers. In total, the Federal Military Surplus Goods Transfer Program has transferred more than $7.5 billion worth of equipment to local law enforcement since the program’s inception in 1990.
Military equipment, for the purposes of the new law, encompasses a wide range of weapons and surveillance tools:
- Land and air drones and unmanned vehicles;
- Command and control vehicles (trucks equipped with computers and other equipment to collect and transmit various video and information streams);
- Tanks, MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles) and Humvees;
- Armed vehicles of any type;
- Firearms over .50 caliber;
- Taser Shockwaves and LRAD (long range acoustic devices, also called sound cannons); and
- Projectile launchers.
It is important that there is more transparency in law enforcement practices, and for communities to have democratic control of surplus military transfers, especially for high-tech surveillance equipment. The promulgation of AB 481 is an important step forward.
It is important that there is more transparency in law enforcement practices, and for communities to have democratic control of surplus military transfersespecially for high-tech surveillance equipment.
The proposed “Military Equipment Use Policy” is now the first step in the process for agencies trying to obtain military equipment. This is a publicly available written document that would govern the state or local agency’s use of this military equipment. It needs to do a few things:
- discuss the legal rules governing the use of equipment;
- describe the training required; and
- describe the procedure by which the public can lodge a complaint.
A law enforcement agency must then seek approval from the jurisdiction’s governing body, such as the city council, in the form of a public meeting. The policy and other relevant documents must be made available to the public on the agencies’ website at least 30 days in advance. Residents who oppose military equipment can use this month to organize in opposition.
Once approval is granted, the agency is not only free to use the equipment indefinitely. There will be an annual review of compliance with the usage policy, based on an annual military equipment report. This report must contain:
- The quantity possessed for each type of military equipment;
- A summary of how and for what purpose the military equipment was used;
- A summary of any complaints or concerns received regarding military equipment;
- The results of any internal audit;
- Any information about violations of the usage policy and the consequences;
- The total annual cost for each type of military equipment, including acquisition, personnel, training, transportation, maintenance, storage, upgrading, and other ongoing costs, and from what source the funds will be drawn the following year; and
- The quantity sought for each type of additional military equipment the law enforcement agency intends to acquire in the coming year.
Agencies have started publishing their documents online, such as those of Milpitas and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Unfortunately, there was rumblings from some in law enforcement against the need to disclose whether they have war equipment. As we have seen in our SB 978 compliance review, which requires California police departments to post their policies online, compliance with the new accountability measures cannot be taken for granted. Yet, like it or not, AB 481 makes military grade tools against the law for law enforcement.