The Morgan Hill Police Department, along with other law enforcement agencies throughout the state, must seek approval from the city council any time it plans to purchase items deemed to be “military equipment,” under a law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September.
Assembly Bill 481 also requires agencies to publicly list their inventory of military equipment, and create a policy that outlines the use and cost of each item.
MHPD Capt. Mario Ramirez noted at a recent city council meeting that the state law also requires the elected body to conduct at least one public meeting annually in which police report each incident where officers have used any equipment in its military gear inventory over the previous year.
The city council at the April 6 meeting unanimously approved two police department policies that aim to keep Morgan Hill in compliance with the state law. Specifically, the council approved the police department’s Military Equipment Use Policy (which includes an extensive inventory of military equipment owned by or accessible to MHPD) and the Armored Rescue Vehicle MedEvac policy.
“We will continue to deploy the equipment as we normally would,” Ramirez told the council. “It is significant equipment that helps us protect our community; it’s equipment that is used by law enforcement nationwide to help (us) be able to serve our communities in the best way we possibly can.”
Much of the military equipment used by MHPD is intended to enhance officers’ safety while facing dangerous incidents, or to extend emergency assistance to larger groups of people, Ramirez explained.
Items in use by MHPD that meet AB 481’s definition of military equipment include: unmanned aerial drone; mobile command vehicle; 40mm “less lethal” launchers and rounds; less lethal shotgun; “flash bang” distraction devices; chemical agent and smoke canisters; pepper ball launcher, AR15 and M4 rifles; Remington 700 sniper rifle.
Other equipment available to MHPD through “mutual aid” from other agencies or regional partnerships include: armored rescue vehicle; long range acoustic device; and “The Rook” armored critical incident vehicle, Ramirez said.
Ramirez added that many of the city’s purchases of military equipment are funded by grants from outside agencies or organizations. Since the adoption of AB 481, if MHPD wants to purchase more military equipment—even if the proposed funding source is a grant—the purchase must be approved by the council.
“The use of the tools identified are necessary to MHPD’s mission and will continue to be strictly regulated through internal processes and oversight,” says a city staff report.
The police department is seeking grant funds to purchase Morgan Hill’s own armored rescue vehicle (ARV), and “would like to seek future grant opportunities for a Rook,” the staff report says.
An ARV seats up to 12 people for rescue or to transport officers, and is covered with heavy armor that can stop certain projectiles. When MHPD has been in need of an ARV in the past, it has requested to use one owned by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office.
A Rook is “an armored vehicle on a tracked platform that allows officers the ability to gain a better view of suspects” from safety, says the city staff report.