The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday approved a new military equipment policy, despite some residents claiming the police department failed to meet state law requirements.
Compared to the initial policy city officials authorized in December, the new version includes equipment left out last time, items police might buy annually and a change to a section about maintaining supply levels.
The policy lists drones, projectile launchers, flashbangs and rifles that police said they unintentionally left out of the previous version or labeled incorrectly.
Police presented the policy in response to AB481, which California lawmakers passed last year, requiring law enforcement agencies to get annual council approval for the funding, acquisition and use of items classified as military equipment. The law defines military equipment as drones, flashbangs, armored vehicles and other items that government agencies decide need special oversight.
Officials voted 7-2 to approve the policy, with Council members Katie Valenzuela and Mai Vang again dissenting, just as they did during discussion of the initial version. Instead of approving the policy, Vang proposed directing police to work with the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission to revise it.
The commission has repeatedly called for five changes, including requiring police to provide demographic data on whom they deploy military equipment against and describe situations where police cannot use such tools. The commision also proposed adding language specifying that itself and the Office of Public Safety Accountability would oversee how police comply with the policy and AB481.
But the council Tuesday night only partially implemented the commission’s recommendation regarding the supply levels clause. Under the updated policy, police can order up to 10% of their military equipment-classified stock each year, with approval. The previous version allowed police to do so without council authorization.
Keyan Bliss, the commission's vice chair, told CapRadio after the vote Tuesday that the council put their interests in donations from the Sacramento Police Officers Association above the community.
“I don't believe for a minute that a majority of the City Council members actually care about meaningful civilian oversight of the police anymore,” Bliss said. “That's my opinion. But I'm going to keep working to make sure that community residents' voices are heard.”
Groups opposing Sacramento’s policy included the local Democratic Socialists of America, Anti Police-Terror Project and ACLU. They argued that police failed to prove the equipment is necessary, cost effective and will protect the public’s safety. AB481 lays out those requirements and says decisions about military equipment should be based on meaningful public input.
The revised policy came after the city Law and Legislation committee instructed police to seek public feedback. Police received about 1,300 online comments between April and May, which are posted on the department’s website. The department also held three community meetings in July, but many residents criticized how it conducted and advertised the meetings.
Carly Brannin with the Sacramento Anti Police-Terror Project said many community organizations requested a moderator for the meetings instead of the conversational Coffee with a Cop style. Police also ignored requests to livestream the meetings or allow online participation, Brannin said in an interview.
“This is not accountability,” Brannin said. “This is not transparency. This is gaslighting at its finest.”
Additional equipment police might buy cost roughly $600,000, according to a staff report. A ROOK armored vehicle accounts for about $400,000, and police said they will only buy it if they receive a state grant.
Under the policy, only trained SWAT team members could use the ROOK, which looks like an armored forklift. Police might deploy the ROOK during a terrorist attack, critical incident or rescue, according to the policy.
The other roughly $200,000 in additional costs includes replacing, maintaining and buying equipment. Some of the items police proposed buying annually are drones, pepper ball launchers, flameless grenades to help find or move barricaded suspects and shotgun rounds for breaking down doors.
Police Chief Kathy Lester said the department follows national best practices for both officer and community safety, like de-escalation training.
“Without this equipment, officers’ options are going to be limited and situations that may have been resolved at a lower level of force, if necessary, may have greater potential to rise to a higher level,” Lester said.
Police on Tuesday did not request funding for the additional equipment because the department plans to apply for grants or the existing budget covers it. The council approved a record-breaking $224 million police budget for this fiscal year in June.
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