Orange County residents are getting an inside look at their local police department’s arsenal this year after a recent California law mandated the disclosure of what state officials deem military equipment.
These mandated disclosures reveal that police departments across OC are equipped with AR-15 style rifles, armored vehicles, tear gas and flashbang grenades and more.
While debates surrounding the equipment and weapons have been minimal, in cities like Santa Ana discussion has been more robust as to whether local police need this kind of firepower – especially after Anaheim police officers shot and killed Brandon Lopez in Santa Ana last year, cousin of Santa Ana Councilman Jonathon Ryan Hernandez.
Many city and police officials have pointed to the 1997 North Hollywood shootout as the need for such weapons and equipment because officers were outgunned at the time.
The shootout left about a dozen police officers wounded after a 44-minute gun battle between two gunmen wearing body armor and armed with AK47s against police outside a Bank of America. It ended with both gunmen dead – the only deaths in the gun battle.
Meanwhile, police departments throughout Orange County routinely take up large chunks of general fund spending every year. In some cities, like Anaheim, police spending takes up roughly 42% of the general fund.
Some city officials have argued that new state law is overreach and the disclosure of what state officials deem “military equipment” is a misnomer because the weaponry has not been acquired from the military.
At the same time, groups like the ACLU say the disclosures will bring more transparency and accountability to local police departments. They have also criticized the use of some of this equipment and weaponry at local protests.
During the George Floyd protests in 2020, city police departments like Santa Ana faced criticism for sending out officers outfitted in riot gear as protestors marched down streets.
The new law requires local police departments across the state to not only publicly list all the equipment they own that the state considers military grade, but to create policies outlining when the equipment can be used.
The Tustin City Council unanimously approved their military equipment policy at their July 19 meeting.
The vote came with minimal discussion.
“AB481 required the city to publish an inventory of what is defined as military equipment — which includes a lot of ammunition rounds and things like that,” Mayor Austin Lumbard said at the meeting.
The Tustin police department’s military equipment inventory includes two armored vehicles, pepperball launchers and 41 AR-15 style rifles.
“The definition of military equipment is very broad, as stated in that act,” City Attorney David Kendig said.
The inventory notes that while the police department is not in possession of any unmanned aircrafts, they plan on buying at least one in the next year.
Click here to view Tustin’s Military Equipment Policy.
Costa Mesa City Council members at their meeting last Tuesday unanimously approved an amended version of their military equipment policy.
The policy came before council members for a first reading and public hearing in June, but the police department later called for amendments to the policy.
The new version added an armored vehicle and outdoor sound amplification equipment to the list.
Councilwoman Andrea Marr questioned at the July 19 meeting if police officials have to bring back the policy everytime there is an additional equipment added to the list.
“We will do it sparingly. In fact, it’s our intent to do it with the budget process and try to keep it to once a year,” Costa Mesa Police Chief Ronald Lawrence said at the meeting.
The police department inventory also includes unmanned aerial vehicles, night vision goggles, pepperball launchers, tear gas, a tactical robot and long distance shoulder-fired firearms.
Click here to view Costa Mesa’s Military Equipment Policy.
Newport Beach City Council members unanimously approved their police’s military equipment policy last month without much discussion on the matter.
Councilman Will O’Neill called the law mandating the disclosure absurd at the June 14 city council meeting.
“Despite it being called a military equipment law, it’s very clear that the police department has received nothing from the United States Department of Defense. And yet we have to go through 75 hours in order to complete this,” O’Neill said.
“This is obscene and our total waste of local resources and a good example, yet again of government overreach from Sacramento.”
Newport Beach police department is equipped with an armored vehicle, a drone, 8 MP5 9mm submachine guns, 17 Colt M4 .223 caliber carbine rifles and 10 bolt-action .308 rifles.
They also have tear gas and flashbang grenades.
Click here to view Newport Beach’s Military Equipment Policy.
Local watchdog Jim Moser said at the same meeting the policy isn’t something the city seems to want to do.
“I have kind of the impression from the staff report that it’s something the city is doing a little bit like a child being told to do something and kind of kicking and screaming but doing it.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
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