One of the surprising details that came to light during the recent debate over local police agencies outfitting themselves with surplus military equipment was the remarkable level of freedom police departments enjoyed in requesting weapons, armored personnel carriers, aircraft and other items. In many places, it was done without local public debate over whether communities wanted their police to be that heavily armed. That is changing at the federal level, and is the subject of a bill working its way through the California Legislature in Sacramento.
Some of the stuff local agencies requested and received created a bizarre mismatch of mission and materiel, such as grenade launchers for the Los Angeles Unified School District police, and Saddleback College's $733,000 mine-resistant armored vehicle (an intimidating parking enforcement vehicle, that).
The American Civil Liberties Union last year sharply condemned the
Earlier this year, President
But he also ordered a change in the process. Police departments can no longer seek the military surplus on their own. Under a directive, now city councils, police commissions or other nonpolice civilian authorities must file the request, ensuring that at least elected representatives of communities will make the call on whether they really want mine-resistant armored vehicles as part of the police department car pool, and grenade launchers in the arsenal.
That was a good change (and one the Times' editorial board supported). Unfortunately, Obama's directive is only valid until the next occupier of the Oval office (President Cruz, anyone?) decides that police can again make those requests on their own.
Thus the bill in Sacramento, AB 36. Introduced by Assembly member Nora Campos (D-San Jose), it would require that all requests for federal surplus military material come from local legislative bodies (i.e., city councils and schools boards) after an open and public vote, which would give communities a chance to weigh in on whether they want their police outfitted like a commando unit.
If enacted, and it should be, California communities would be able to decide whether to seek a more militarized police force even if the next president rescinds Obama’s restrictions. An even better move would be for