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Council reviews policy for Ceres Police Department to use military equipment
Ceres city seal new

New legislation signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom caused a lot of red-tape work for Ceres Police Department officials who are now required to spell out which military style weapons they will be using and why.

On Oct. 24 the Ceres City Council reviewed the policy.

Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 481 (AB 481) on Sept. 30, 2021, which mandates that a city council approve its police department’s use of military equipment and a policy regarding its use. The law also requires cities and counties to produce annual reports regarding the policy and use of military equipment.

Such equipment includes drone, armored vehicles, battering rams, firearms and ammunition of .50 caliber or greater, “flashbang” grenades and other explosive breaching tools, rubber bullets and other specialty impact munitions.

AB 481 calls for more transparency and requires police agencies to obtain approval from the council before purchasing, raising funds for, or acquiring military equipment, by any means, including requesting surplus military equipment from the federal government. Through their elected officials, the public can say “no” to military surveillance and other technology, and it won’t be allowed in their jurisdiction.

Many law enforcement officials have criticized the legislation as being anti-police.

The bill was authored by San Francisco Democrat Assemblyman David Chiu and is modeled on Community Control of Police Surveillance (CCOPS) laws enacted in 18 U.S. cities. Those laws were endorsed by groups concerned about police use of weaponry and technology, including the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, and The Stop Terror and Oppression by Police (STOP) Coalition.

In introducing his bill, Chiu said: “California’s local law enforcement agencies have acquired more military equipment than any other state over the last 30 years. Yet the public often have little to no information about such acquisitions, which can cost local governments tens of millions of dollars. With troubling examples of this military equipment being used without clear protocol in recent years against peaceful demonstrators from Orange to Walnut Creek, it is time to reevaluate how law enforcement receives and implements war weapons in our communities.

“This bill is about rebuilding community trust. Our streets in California are not war zones, and our citizens are not enemy combatants. Law enforcement in California are our partners in public safety, and the weapons and equipment they carry should reflect that reality.”

By law the policy must detail a description of the equipment, such as how many pieces of equipment is used, their capabilities and expected lifespan; explain the purposes and authorized uses of the equipment; their expense, the legal and procedural rules governing their use, the training that is required to use the equipment, and how the cities plan to enforce the policy; as well as give the public a chance to complain about or question that policy.

Some police officials express concerns about their departments required to divulge details about the tactical weapons in their arsenal. They include Kings County Sheriff David Robinson who said: “We used to try and not advertise those things because we didn’t want [adversaries] to know the equipment we have. It’s interesting when you read the language of AB 481...they’ve really broadened the equipment we [must] include.”

Details about the military-style equipment also must be posted on the city’s website.

The law is likely to pit law enforcement agencies in larger cities like Los Angeles against their liberal-leaning councilmembers.

AB 481 also mandated that the City Council must make all of these four findings:

• The equipment is necessary because there is no reasonable alternative to achieve officer and public safety.

• The policy will safeguard the public’s welfare, safety, civil rights and civil liberties.

• If equipment is being purchased, it is reasonably cost-effective compared to alternatives that can achieve officer and civilian safety.

• Prior equipment use complied with the policy that was in effect at that time or where equipment use did not comply, corrective action has been taken to remedy nonconforming use and ensure future compliance.

The annual report the city will be required to produce, according to the new state law, must explain how the military-style equipment was used and the purpose of that use. The report also must include any complaints about such use, as well as any results of internal audits about equipment use violation.

Ceres resident John Osgood expressed this concern about the law: “If we codify as a corporation, as a city government, what items will be allowed by our police department to form a standing army – standing army against the people – with or without due process in the future, those items are armaments and the people have the right to keep and bear those same arms. This is the legal definition of arms. We must be very careful what we allow in that municipal code because we open up a door for a legal argument for possession of items that the state and the city don’t want any citizen to have necessarily.”

Retired law enforcement officer and Ceres resident John Warren said he feels it is “a good thing” for Ceres Police to obtain military equipment, especially .50-caliber or greater in addition to the smaller rounds used day-to-day.