Hundreds of thousands of bullets, flash bang grenades, pepper balls, armored vehicles, drones and hundreds of carbine assault rifles – these are just a few of the weapons the Orange County Sheriff’s Department have in their nearly $4 million arsenal.
On Tuesday, OC Supervisors voted 3-1 to approve the sheriff’s department military equipment use policy which has sparked a debate on the rarely used weapon inventory and what critics are calling the militarization of the county.
Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento opposed the policy, arguing that while pepperballs may non lethally take down a suspect, in the instance of a protest it could be misused and “chill” people’s First Amendment right to peaceably assemble.
“The fact that there are militarized weaponry that could dissuade people from coming up, because they could be fearful of this equipment being misused so that’s my concern,” he said.
Sarmiento also said there was lack of clarity on when some of the weapons will be used.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee abstained from the vote.
Residents spoke out against the inventory with one woman questioning the purpose of the weapon stockpile and if the county is preparing for “World War III.”
David Duran, Anaheim resident, pointed to the death of Kurt Reinhold, a Black homeless man killed by sheriff deputies after they stopped him for jaywalking, and questioned if Sheriff deputies could be trusted with the weaponry.
“The sheriffs we know already have failed on a few levels,” he said. “If you approve this, they’re now going to be in charge of utilization of militarized equipment against the public.”
He also said the department failed to describe authorized uses for some of the weapons.
Local leaders are required to review all the military grade equipment they give law enforcement after state leaders passed a new law in 2021 requiring annual disclosures of the armory’s inventory and what it was used on.
To read the full disclosure of military equipment owned by the sheriffs, click here.
The county’s chief legal counsel, Leon Page, said while the law characterizes the weaponry as military, he and the sheriff’s department wouldn’t use that word for some of the equipment– an argument many local city officials made last year when they implemented the policy for the first time.
The department spent over $500,000 in the last year on ammunition alone, with around $73,000 for lethal ammunition and the rest going to less lethal munitions, like pepper balls and sponge gun rounds.
Currently, the department has over 136,000 rounds of lethal ammunition in its armory – 100 of those are .50 caliber rounds.
Most of the equipment went unused over the last year, according to the sheriff’s department, with the county’s drone fleet used 101 times out of the 137 incidents recorded in the staff report.
Pepperball launchers were used 24 times over the last year, along with 10 uses of armored vehicles.
The most common use for military equipment was spent on training, with 256 training exercises and over 2,200 hours of training recorded in the staff report compared to 66 times the equipment was used to capture someone in the field, and 57 times the equipment was used for “intelligence gathering.”
In 2020, an OC Sheriff sergeant was fiddling with an AR-15 rifle and accidently shot a hole through the arm of a former county employee at John Wayne airport.
Across the county, sheriffs reported using the equipment for “intelligence gathering,” 60% of the time, with the equipment being used to apprehend people only around 25% of the time across most of the county according to the report.
The District Attorney’s office has 18 assault rifles in its inventory as well, but none have been used in the past year according to the DA’s disclosure.
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.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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