In Southern California, the Long Beach City Council on October 4 will vote on whether its police department can continue to use military-grade equipment and weapons.
The subject of the vote is a recent report submitted by the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) that takes stock of its complete inventory of military weaponry.
Under Assembly Bill 481, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2021, local law enforcement agencies are required to make public an annual inventory of equipment that was originally designed for military use and their policy for using said equipment. In order to continue using the equipment, agencies must submit and gain approval of these documents from their governing body (e.g., city council).
LBPD SWAT officers have for years been using military-grade equipment such as armored trucks, drones, robots and high-powered rifles in emergency circumstances like hostage situations or bomb threats.
According to a staff report from LBPD Chief Wally Hebeish, the department will use the equipment “in accordance with state and federal laws to protect life and property, and to serve all people with respect, dignity, and in a constitutional manner.”
It also noted that the department has not received any new military weapons or equipment through the Department of Defense’s Law Enforcement Support Program — which allows the DOD to transfer excess equipment to law enforcement agencies — for several years.
The most powerful weapons in the LBPD’s inventory are the Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle and two FN America M240B 7.62x51mm NATO rifles.
According to a spokesperson for the department, the weapons are intended for terrorist emergencies and other dangerous events.
Only four of the department’s SWAT officers are trained to use the powerful weapons, and none of them have been used in the field so far.
A breakdown of the department’s inventory is as follows:
- Four armored vehicles at a cost of $929,682
- 67 AR-15 5.56 caliber rifles
- 811 units of tear gas and other chemical agents for crowd control operations
- Six unmanned aerial vehicles for use in SWAT operations, missing persons searches, natural disaster management or crime scene photography
The report also included a detailed list of “less-lethal rounds,” such as 40-millimeter foam projectiles, which were used frequently during the 2020 George Floyd protests.
In August, the Los Angeles City Council approved the LAPD’s military equipment use by a 9–3 vote.
According to the ACLU, police departments across the country have more than 60,000 military-style rifles and 1,500 combat vehicles and tanks in total.
“It is the intent of LBPD that there be legally enforceable safeguards including transparency, oversight and accountability measures in place to ensure the public’s welfare, safety, civil rights and civil liberties are uplifted before equipment is funded, acquired or used,” the report concluded.