LBPD Equipped for War – Harnessed by Law

By: 
Stephen Downing

Assembly Bill 481 – a law approved by the governor and signed into law on Sept. 30, 2021 restricts law enforcement purchases and use of military equipment.

The intent of the law is to increase transparency, accountability and oversight surrounding the acquisition and use of military equipment by state and local law enforcement, to make public policy for use of the equipment and to obtain approval from the agency ‘s governing body for its use.

The legislation required the LBPD – no later than May 1, 2022 – to 1) Commence a governing body approval process within 180 days of submission of its proposed military equipment use policy and 2) Make the documents available on the LBPD website at least 30 days prior to any public hearing concerning the military equipment and the department’s policies for its use.

On Sunday May 1, the Beachcomber was unable to locate the LBPD’s website publication as required by the law.

On May 2 LAPD media relations was asked to either provide the link or comment as to why the department failed to comply with the mandates of the legislation.

On May 3, LBPD spokesperson Richard Mejia wrote that “our proposed military equipment use policy is in its final stages of departmental approval and will be posted on our website in the very near future.”

On May 5 Mejia notified the Beachcomber that the AB 481 LBPD webpage had been published. He provided this newspaper with a link to the information.

On May 6 – in a press release – the LBPD announced the publication of the “Assembly Bill 481 Webpage.”

The announcement included the following statement: “Following a 30-day public review period, the department’s proposed military equipment use policy will be sent for City Council’s review and placed on the agenda for open session and public comment.

“Members of the public can also register a question or concern regarding military use equipment by contacting the LBPD via email at AB481@longbeach.gov.

“To view the webpage, please follow the link below:
https://www.longbeach.gov/police/about-the-lbpd/lbpd-ab-481/

Weapons and Equipment Requirements

The AB 481 requirements associated with equipment posted include: 1). Type, quantity, capabilities, purposes, and authorized uses of each type of military equipment, 2). The fiscal impact of their acquisition and use, 3). The legal and procedural rules that govern their use, 4). The training required by any officer allowed to use them, 5). The mechanisms in place to ensure policy compliance, and 6). The procedures by which the public may register complaints.

Beachcomber Review Registered with LBPD

The Beachcomber – in consultation with several experts, including John Lindsay-Poland who co-directs the California Healing Justice Program of American Friends Service Committee and Greg Buhl, a Long Beach resident, attorney and head research analyst at CheckLBPD – registered the following questions and comments with the LBPD though the email address provided in their press release for members of the public to register questions or concerns: AB481@LongBeach.Gov.

The following questions were posed to the LBPD following review of the special order issued by Chief of Police Wally Hebeish on May 5:

  1. Why is the “Strongwatch Freedom-on-the-Move” camera vehicle – a technology used by the military in combat zones to facilitate operational control and direction of units – once seen deployed by the LBPD during the BLM Peacewalk – not included on the list under the category of Command and Control Vehicles built or modified to facilitate the operational control and direction of public safety units?
  2. Why was the MobileEye vehicle – especially if modified – not included in the list along with a policy approval level for its use?
  3. Why does the LBPD need four armored vehicles?
  4. Why is a watch commander included in the authorization to deploy an armored vehicle when the SWAT Commander is the expert?
  5. Why is an incident commander authorized to approve explosive breaching tools when the SWAT commander is the expert?

Evaluation Comments

The following comment was provided through the email address provided by the LBPD for public comment:

The policy for chemical agents, including teargas, and impact projectiles (#1, #5, #6 in the LBPD inventory; #4 for the port inventory), fails to comply with AB 48, the other new state law governing use of those weapons.

AB 48 prohibits use of chemical agents and impact projectiles for crowd control unless there is a clear threat to life or of serious bodily injury, and only after specific measures have been taken. These include de-escalation techniques, clear announcements that the weapons will be deployed, and opportunity for people to leave the scene.

AB 48 (Penal Code § 13652) also prohibits use of these weapons only to enforce a curfew, respond to a verbal threat, or – important – enforce a law enforcement directive (which could be as simple as a verbal command to do something).

On the contrary, the proposal specifically references crowd control for using “less lethal” munitions.

The situations for authorized use for these weapons contain the language “include but are not limited to” those situations – meaning, anything is authorized.

The “included but not limited to” authorized uses are also in the drone use policy.

LBPD’s military equipment policy and its existing policy manual for less lethal agents incorporate none of these restrictions on the use of such weaponry, and so are noncompliant with Penal Code § 13652.

AB 481 requires use policies for military equipment to identify "mechanisms to ensure compliance with the military equipment use policy, including which independent persons or entities have oversight authority, and, if applicable, what legally enforceable sanctions are put in place for violations of the policy.”

The proposed LBPD policy does not identify any independent oversight authority, and so is out of compliance with the legislation.

The proposed policies offer no guidance for what situations assault rifles and armored vehicles should and should not be deployed.

There is no understanding that the appearance of these weapons and equipment can escalate fear and conflict, especially if there are cognitive barriers such as a mental health crises or non-English speakers with English-only speaking officers.

40mm launchers are described as "intended for use in situations where stand-off distance is desired” (p. 11) but there is no prohibition or limitation on their use at close or medium range.

“The LBPD policy manual does say officers should consider “distance and angle to the target” before discharging these munitions (p. 404), but doesn’t actually say close distance firing should be avoided.

Governmental Review

Chief Hebeish’s special order provides that “Any member of the public can register via email a question or concern at AB481@longbeach.gov. and that a response to the question or concern will be provided.

Once the 30-day public comment period passes, the City Council will review the policy and approve via issuance of an ordinance, as required by AB 481.

If this is not accomplished, it will become unlawful for the LBPD to deploy and use the specified military equipment.

What is not known is the procedure the City Council will use during the 180-review period.

Will it involve public hearings conducted by the Public Safety Committee, a review of the questions and concerns submitted by the public and the LPBD’s responses along with testimony from department experts and the Chief of Police?

The Beachcomber will provide answers to those questions as they become available.

Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired LAPD deputy chief of police.

stephen.beachcomber@gmail.com

 

[Editor Note: A major contribution was made to this article by John Lindsay-Poland, co-director of the California Healing Justice Program of American Friends Service Committee. Poland has researched, written about and advocated on issues of militarism for four decades, and conducted extensive research on militarized equipment used by police in California. He coordinated a recent report published by AFSC, Equipped for War: Exposing Militarized Policing in California, which included reviews of responses to more than 300 Public Records Act requests to California law enforcement agencies about the militarized equipment they use.]

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Comments

LOL really 50 caliber sniper, machine guns, and armored vehicles that are used for WAR, are needed to keep LB citizen safe? Here's an idea, how about just having cops patrol the streets and not sitting at the coffee shops falsifying reports. These weapons were acquired so these cops can feel tough. If thats what they wanted why not join the marines and not a city police department. Im sure these clowns have no idea what these weapons of war can do in an urban environment because they have never been in an infantry unit in combat. They just want to take selfies and pretend to play war with them, putting our lives at risk. These POGs should be given pencils not weapons of war.

Military equipment is made for War, and designed to aid in killing people. Law Enforcement should not have access to war materials but should be trained in how to develop positive relationships with people in the communities they serve. They are Public Servants, not Mercenaries.

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