Orange County law enforcement agencies have millions of dollars worth of military weapons and equipment stashed in police stations and jails throughout the county, but most of it doesn’t get used regularly according to new disclosures released by local police departments. 

Last year, every city in the state had to disclose all the military equipment in their arsenals under a new law dubbed AB 481 signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2021.

This is the first year they had to track and disclose when and how it was used. 

[Read: Does Your Local Police Department Need A Military-Grade Armored Truck?]

And in most cities, the equipment went almost entirely untouched through the year. 

The OC Sheriff’s Department, which serves as the police department for 15 of the county’s 34 cities, disclosed 137 times where they had to use equipment that were deemed military grade over the last year, with only 33 of those resulting in any use of force.

To read the county’s full disclosure, click here

Nearly every time the weapons were used on someone were at the county jails, which claimed 80% of those instances on crowd control and “suspect apprehension,” on people who were already in jail. 

The most commonly used device was the department’s 29-unit drone fleet, which was used 101 times over the last year, followed by pepperball launchers, 40 mm launchers and armored vehicles. 

According to the disclosures, the department spent twice as much time training with military equipment as they did actually using it in the field. 

There was no recorded use in the field of the department’s nearly 600 rifles, or the 136,000 rounds of ammunition the department had on hand. 

When asked about why so much equipment was kept in storage, sheriff’s spokesperson Carrie Braun said that while some equipment had “limited usage,” its availability remains “essential”. 

“Striking a balance between proper resource allocation, fiscal responsibility, and maintaining operational readiness is an ongoing effort,” Braun said in a statement to reporters on Thursday evening. “The department’s strategy focuses on equipping and training personnel to safeguard our community.” 

It’s a trend seen in city police departments throughout Orange County. 

In Huntington Beach, the police department disclosed 46 different times military equipment was used over the past year.

Nearly half of those uses were for security deployments for the city’s Fourth of July fireworks show and the Pacific Airshow. 

The department’s drones were deployed 22 times according to the disclosure and were the most commonly used piece of equipment. 

To read Huntington Beach’s disclosure, click here

The Westminster Police Department is the owner of the West County SWAT’s armored Bearcat truck, which is shared by the cities of Cypress, Los Alamitos, Westminster, Seal Beach and Fountain Valley. 

According to disclosures from the city of Cypress, all the uses of the equipment are reported by the city that actually owns them. 

While it’s unclear which cities the truck was used in, Westminster police say it was used only four times over the past year, and in no incident were the officers fired upon or forced to fire on someone else, according to the disclosure when they had the truck. 

To read Westminster’s disclosure, click here

The Westminster Police Department disclosed only one use of force on a person, using a 40 mm launcher to shoot at someone with a knife who allegedly violated a restraining order and was attempting to stab a police K-9 unit used to restrain him, according to the disclosure. 

The city also had the most detailed disclosures, listing exactly which equipment was used, the situation at the scene, and what the end result was. 

When asked if the sheriff’s department would consider a similar practice, Braun did not answer the question. 

“The Orange County Sheriff’s Department recognizes the importance of transparency and will continually assess best practices,” Braun said in a statement.

Cypress disclosed zero uses of force over the past year from their nearly $150,000 arsenal.

Several cities, such as Anaheim and Irvine, have yet to disclose their military equipment use for the past year, but are set to release their disclosures in the coming weeks. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @NBiesiada.


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