A bill to stop the militarization of California police departments received final approval in the state legislature last Thursday. The bill is now on its way to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown.
A.B.36 establishes that California would “prohibit a local agency, other than a local law enforcement agency that is directly under the control of an elected officer, from applying to receive tactical surplus military equipment.”
It bans the transfer of “tracked armored vehicles, weaponized vehicles, firearms or ammunition greater than .50 caliber, grenade launchers, bayonets and camouflage uniforms.”
Introduced by Assemblywoman Nora Campos of San Jose, Assembly Bill 36 (A.B.36) — if enacted into law by the governor — will prevent the transfer of heavy duty weapons of war to local police departments.
Americans are increasingly concerned with the Pentagon’s now prevalent practice of arming local police departments with weapons of war, from grenade launchers to M-16 rifles and MRAP armored vehicles.
The bill specifically points out the dangers of police militarization, saying it would “declare that this is a matter of statewide concern.”
Most military equipment given to local police departments is transferred via the Pentagon’s surplus 1033 program. Through it, the Pentagon donates heavy military weaponry and equipment to local police departments, government agencies, and even school districts.
The program incited alarm when schools received grenade launchers and collections of M-16 rifles. Those in question included the Los Angeles Unified School District’s police and police at the University of Louisiana, Monroe.
The controversies surrounding weapons transfers like these have chipped away at support for the 1033 program.
“Those are weapons for war, they are not for policing communities,” said Ray Robertson, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette — in reference to the University of Louisiana’s stockpile of twelve M-16 rifles.
The transfer of military weapons to local police is considered by many to be reckless as the policy raises the risk for abuse of power. Assemblywoman Campos highlighted these concerns: “Due to recent events of police brutality, distrust between law enforcement and many of our communities remains at an all-time high,” she said. “Further exacerbating the issue is the recent militarization of law enforcement agencies and a movement away from community policing across the nation.”
The following examples from non-profit news organization The Marshall Project illustrate the scale of the weapons transfer program:
- “Police in Johnston, R.I., with a population less than 29,000, acquired two bomb disposal robots, 10 tactical trucks, 35 assault rifles, more than 100 infrared gun sights and two pairs of footwear designed to protect against explosive mines. The Johnson police department has 67 sworn officers.
- The parks division of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources was given 20 M-16 rifles, while the fish and wildlife enforcement division obtained another 20 M-16s, plus eight M-14 rifles and ten .45-caliber automatic pistols.
- Campus police at the University of Louisiana, Monroe, received 12 M-16s to help protect the 8,811 students there (or perhaps to keep them in line).
- The warden service of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife received a small aircraft, 96 night vision goggles, 67 gun sights and seven M-14 rifles.”
Is it a good sign that California lawmakers are concerned about the 1033 program? Why does the Pentagon want to arm these police departments and organizations so heavily in the first place?