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Council Moves Towards Full Compliance of ‘Military Equipment’ Law

Published on Monday, April 25, 2022 | 6:04 pm
 

The Pasadena Police Department’s $1.8 million Mobile Command Center truck. [Courtesy City of Pasadena]
The City Council unanimously directed the City Attorney to draft an ordinance in response to a new law that requires law enforcement agencies to establish policies and obtain approvals from governing bodies before obtaining military equipment.

California state law AB 481 requires the policy be submitted to the City Council and posted on the City’s website 30 days before a public meeting where the policy will be considered and adopted by ordinance.

“We really talked about what was the best way to bring this to Council and what was the best way to engage the public,” said Interim City Manager Cynthia Kurtz.

Kurtz said the city decided to bring the policy to the City Council to provide more transparency.

The item will come back with a full report before the first reading of the ordinance so that the City Council can have a full discussion on the matter.

Kurtz said the city has some unique events which leads to the need for some items that other cities may not have. The city works with Homeland Security and the FBI during the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl Game.

State law requires an annual review of the city’s policy. The policy will also go before the city’s Police Oversight Commission.

The city’s inventory includes a robot used to help de-escalate situations and determine if a suspect is armed, a drone, an armored Bearcat vehicle, a mobile command post, lock-defeating rounds that allow quick access during active shooter and hostage situations, .50 caliber precision rifle and ammunition, flashbang devices, tear gas and other chemical agents, barricade penetrating rounds, foam rounds, pepperball launcher, 40mm less-lethal rounds.

“The military style equipment that PPD has, is equipment that we have had for many years,” said Police Chief Cheryl Moody. “The equipment is only utilized for the safety and protection of the community. There are some less-than-lethal items that are deployed for patrol officers to utilize for de-escalation purposes during certain incidents in the field. But the vast majority of the equipment is stored under lock and key and only accessible to our trained SWAT Team members if needed during large events such as the Rose Parade and large events at the Rose Bowl and other critical incidents such as a barricaded suspect. It is the industry standard to have the necessary equipment on hand and not have to use it, as opposed to not having it and a critical incident occurs and we are not prepared to protect our community.”

With the exception of three Bell OH-58 helicopters, which were obtained from the military, all other equipment in PPD’s inventory has been sourced through direct purchases and seizures.

None of the military items were used during recent protests.

“I don’t think that we can predict all circumstances and situations,” said Mayor Victor Gordo. “If we have learned anything about these occurrences it’s that we can’t be as prepared as we’d like to be. We certainly have to take every precaution and be as prepared as we can be,” said Mayor Victor Gordo. “We do have equipment and the public should be aware of that.”

This past weekend, police encountered a suspect wanted for assault with a deadly weapon. Police used pepper balls and a 40mm round to infiltrate the van and a Bearcat vehicle to apprehend the suspect, Moody said.

The city previously used a Bearcat vehicle in 2014 during a mass shooting on Summit Avenue when John Izael Smith, 44, began firing a semi-automatic rifle after a dispute with his landlord.

The Bearcat vehicle was used to allow officers to reach the victims.

“The term military equipment, as used in AB 481, does not necessarily indicate equipment that has been used by the military,” according to the city staff report.

The bill aims to address concerns about oversight surrounding law enforcement’s acquisition and use of military equipment.

“There is a limited amount of military style equipment that is in the coffers,” said Councilmember John Kennedy. “Having said that in a critical incident our Pasadena Police Officers need maximum flexibility to arrest a violent situation. In a normal situation we would not want to use any of this equipment, but again we are a unique situation that hosts world class events.”

In June, the City Council approved the purchase of a $1.8 million Mobile Command Center truck that will replace the department’s obsolete command vehicle that’s been in service for more than 20 years.

Local critics opposed the expenditure, claiming the vehicle will be used to conduct surveillance.

The unit is designed to operate as a mobile police station. Local police officials told Pasadena Now emphatically that the vehicle is not an armored or Bearcat vehicle.

In 2014, the department returned a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP), an armored personnel carrier vehicle, after the Pasadena Weekly reported police had acquired two of the vehicles.

The city obtained the MRAP vehicle through the U.S. Department of Defense’s Excess Property Program, also known as Program 1033, which allows police departments to obtain military equipment.

The program came under fire after the riots in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 which were sparked by the officer-involved shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

During the riots, Ferguson police responded by using MRAPs and military-grade weapons against protesters.

President Barack Obama established limitations on the program, but those limitations were rolled back by President Donald Trump in 2017.

At that time, the City Council knew the department had one vehicle and began to ask questions about the second one after the Weekly story appeared. After council members saw the second vehicle, the police department was told to return it.

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