Assault weapons. Armored trucks. Flashbangs.
These are three of the top 10 types of military equipment currently owned by the Palm Springs Police Department, and residents will have the opportunity to vote on the city’s continued ownership and use of this equipment at the meeting. of Thursday’s city council.
The city is holding a public hearing into the matter following AB 481, a new state law requiring all California law enforcement agencies to publicly disclose the military equipment they possess and that their governing body adopt a public policy governing its use. The law defines “military materiel” as any equipment that falls under 15 categories, including firearms of .50 caliber or larger and armed aircraft.
Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, the city released the proposed policy that council members will vote on as well as a list of military equipment currently held by the city. Much, but not all, of the equipment is approved for use only by the city’s SWAT team, which Palm Springs shares with Cathedral City. This list includes the following and identifies their permitted use under the new order:
- 34 assault rifles in three different types with full and semi-automatic capabilities. The proposed policy states that the rifles should “be used in situations that require increased accuracy and precision at long ranges and are currently used by most law enforcement agencies across the country.”
- A battery-powered, remote-controlled robot for high-risk incidents to get visual and audio data, such as a subject’s location and whether the person is armed. The robot can also be used to deliver phones to hostage negotiation teams, open doors and clear buildings. Use of the robot is limited to trained members of the department’s SWAT team, per policy. The robot is shared with Cathedral City and mostly paid for by that department.
- Four armored rescue trucks which are primarily used during high-risk tactical enforcement operations, rescues and officer responses and provide security when apprehending armed violent suspects, according to the police department. The trucks also provide four-wheel drive capability and can be used to transport or evacuate casualties in the event of a flood, fire, or other natural disaster scenario. Only a shift commander (highest-ranking commander on duty outside office hours) SWAT commander can deploy the vehicles. The vehicles cost around $730,000 total about half of the cost being paid by private donors.
- A metal broom which can be attached to one of the armored trucks and used to break through structures and fences, or ram into objects. The broom is to be used during high-risk incidents, including active shooter incidents in schools, to enhance officer and community safety, improve scene containment and stabilization, and help resolve critical incidents .
- An SUV and a pickup truck which have been equipped with computers and other communications technology for use in law enforcement and public safety situations, including natural disasters.
- 48 explosive devices known as flashbangs which produce noise and sound and are used to disorient subjects for six to eight seconds to provide tactical advantage to officers.
- 23 tear gas canisterswhich the department says can be used for crowd control and to gain a temporary tactical advantage on self-destructive or combative subjects.
- 48 x 40mm rubber projectile launcherswhich the department says are used to break glass and as a non-lethal means of disarming subjects.
- 120 shotgun rounds used to force open doors.
- Several explosive devices used to force open doors.
Proposal Palm Springs the policy states that the board concludes that the equipment named in the policy is necessary “because there is no reasonable alternative that can achieve the same objective of officer and civilian safety”, a conclusion necessary in under state law. It also indicates that the equipment is reasonably cost effective compared to possible alternatives that could achieve the same ends.
The use of devices such as flashbangs and tear gas following their use in nationwide protests in 2020 is potentially controversial. The proposed policy in Palm Springs states that tear gas and rubber projectiles can be used in crowd control situations. The proposal does not list crowd control situations as one of the approved uses of flashbangs, but does indicate that they can be used by SWAT officers in hostage situations, serving high-risk warrants and other situations where their use would “enhance officer safety”.
AB 481 states that the California Legislature believes that the acquisition and use of military equipment “negatively impacts the safety and welfare of the public” and presents “increased risks of civilian death” and ” significant risks to civil rights, civil liberties, and physical and psychological well-being.” He also notes that the technology is “more frequently deployed in low-income black and brown communities, meaning the risks and impacts of police militarization are felt most acutely in marginalized communities.”
He goes on to state that there is a need for increased transparency and public participation regarding such equipment, and affirms that the public has the right to be informed of any acquisition or use of military equipment. The law states that decisions about military equipment must be made on the basis of meaningful public input and that legally enforceable safeguards for transparency and civil rights must be in place.
“The lack of a public forum to discuss the acquisition of military equipment jeopardizes the relationship that the police have with the community, which can be undermined when law enforcement is seen as a force of occupation rather than a public security service,” it read.
Some critics point out According to them, two academic studies show that the use of such equipment by the police does not reduce crime or protect officers. Last May, the American Civil Liberties Union published a comment on the use of military equipment by police departments entitled “Federal Militarization of Law Enforcement Must End” which argued that the influx of unsafe police equipment does not improve public safety and instead leads to ” real harms that disproportionately affect people of color”.
The commentary ultimately recommended that “Police must be demilitarized, which necessitates a reduction in access to and use of militarized weapons designed for the battlefield of war, including assault rifles, spears -grenades, incendiary devices and armored vehicles”.
Residents who wish to address City Council on the police issue can attend Thursday’s meeting at City Hall, which begins at 5:30 p.m., or call 760-323-8204.
If approved, the ordinance must be reviewed annually by the board. As part of the review process, police will be required to submit an annual summary of how the equipment is used, any community complaints received regarding its use, information on any audits of the use of the equipment or of policy violations as well as an inventory of equipment and its cost.
Paul Albani-Burgio covers breaking news and the city of Palm Springs. Follow him on Twitter at @albaniburgiop and by email at [email protected]