The City of Orange has disclosed information regarding the purchase and deployment of military-grade weapons after refusing a public records request late last year by a national Quaker group. 

The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, filed a lawsuit against the Orange Police Department after they refused to fulfill a public records request on the purchase and deployment of militarized equipment in October 2021. 

The city cited security and anti-terrorism grounds for the refusal of the records request.

This refusal came just after California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 481, a new state law that requires law enforcement agencies to adopt a written military equipment policy that lists all city-owned military-grade equipment and get public approval from their governing city councils.

Since the lawsuit was served in April, Orange officials produced all requested documentation.

“Orange’s disclosure of records of military gear used by police in response to our litigation shows that all cities and counties need to be transparent,” John Lindsay-Poland, co-director of the committee’s California Healing Justice program, wrote in a May 20 statement. “It is important for community members to understand just how militarized law enforcement has become.”

Phil McMullin, the Orange Police Department public information officer, declined to comment on the lawsuit from the American Friends Service Committee.

Committee representatives pointed to December 2019, when Orange police officers shot and killed Erik Lee, a 43-year-old man diagnosed with a mental health disorder who was wielding a knife. 

Lee’s parents have filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that he was having a mental health crisis and the officers used excessive force.

An April 8 news release from the committee states the organization has filed more than 300 public records requests in order to create advocacy tools and a database providing transparency in efforts to demilitarize police forces across the U.S.

“Militarized police forces bring dangerous weaponry into communities – especially Black and Brown communities – with devastating results,” Lindsay-Poland wrote in the statement. “We hope that this lawsuit, and our efforts to increase transparency and accountability for law enforcement agencies across the state, will help mitigate the harm and violence caused by militarized policing.”

The City of Orange voted 4-1 to introduce an ordinance adopting their police department’s military equipment use policy at their May 10 council meeting, with council member Kathy Tavoularis voting against the item, without explicitly saying why.

Orange’s military equipment policy shows that the city has five drones, an armored vehicle, 77 AR-15 style rifles, 33 “less lethal” impact projectile launchers, as well as flashbang grenades and tear gas. The City Council will consider military equipment in a second reading on June 14.

“[The state law] has basically broadened the definition of military equipment to include much of our regular police equipment, even going as far as regular duty tahoes, our supervisor commanding control vehicles, our mobile command vehicles, and including less lethal munitions, drones and even the rifles that all our officers carry to protect our citizens,” Police Chief Dan Adams said at the meeting.

The staff report for the item pointed to gunshots fired in the Orange Plaza Paseo from last summer as one example of the need for their devices.

“Rifles keep police officers from being ‘outgunned’ by suspects who possess higher caliber weapons,” Tuesday’s staff report read. “A recent example of this occurred in August 2021, near the Plaza, when a suspect fired rounds from an assault rifle in a neighboring residence.”

At the meeting, some council members questioned the need to publish this information. 

Council member Jon Dumitru said that this disclosure could give individuals the opportunity to vet how armed the city’s police department is in order to do the most harm.

“If you’re a person who wants to do harm to your own city, you’re going to look at this database to figure out who is going to combat you as a rioter or person who wants to do damage,” Dumitru said at the meeting. “I feel it’s just intrusive to public safety as a whole that we are disclosing our capabilities to the public so that the public that doesn’t live here and wants to do harm knows exactly what we can and can’t defend.”

It comes as some city council members throughout OC are reexamining the military weapons used by their respective police forces.

[Read: Orange County Cities Start Disclosing What Kinds of Military Equipment Are Used By Local Police]

The review requires local police departments across California to publicly list all the equipment and weapons they own deemed by the state to be military grade, as well as ask for permission from their city council members a month in advance before buying more.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at ahicks@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.

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