A detailed list of the Carlsbad Police Department’s military-style equipment, from its BearCat armored vehicle to the 1,810 rounds of less-than-lethal beanbag projectiles, was approved under a policy adopted unanimously last week by the City Council.
Assembly Bill 481, which Gov. Newsom signed Sept. 30, 2021, requires every California law enforcement agency to adopt a similar policy and review it annually at a public meeting. The legislation is intended to ensure people are aware of and can comment on their police department’s purchase and use of military-style equipment.
Robots, drones, laser pointers, grenades and grenade launchers, 12-gauge shotguns, and various types of rifles and rifle noise suppressors are among the 55 different categories of equipment on Carlsbad’s list.
Most of the gear was purchased with prior City Council approval, and none of it came from federal military surplus programs, according to a city staff report.
The City Council unanimously approved the purchase of the BearCat in 2011 for $254,000 using federal funds from the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Areas Security Initiative, part of a national effort to safeguard communities from terrorism. The vehicle replaced a donated 1988 GMC Brigadier, formerly used as a bank’s armored delivery truck, that had been part of the Police Department’s inventory.
Also on the city’s list is an Avatar tactical robot, purchased for $28,009. The remote-controlled, belt-driven vehicle with camera and two-way audio can navigate different terrains including grass and stairs. It’s used for search and rescue, and to avoid putting officers in harm’s way.
The department has 15 12-gauge shotguns, primarily used to fire bean-bag munitions. All were purchased before 1990 for $800 each. The beanbag ammo costs $30 for a package of five.
Only nine categories of gear, things such as the aerial drones, beanbag shotguns and the mobile command post vehicle, are available for use by patrol officers. Most of the equipment is only for the Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT, unit and only for deployment in “serious public safety incidents,” the report states.
This year the department plans to add to its arsenal five .308 Accuracy International AT bolt action rifles purchased for a total of $32,758. Described in the report as “an accurate rifle for precision shooting,” the weapons are only to be used by the SWAT sniper team.
“We wanted to create a document that provides clear and detailed information,” police Lt. Reid Shipley told the City Council at its meeting Wednesday. “Many of the items are needed to comply with department’s de-escalation process.”
De-escalation generally involves taking steps to avoid or lessen violence when dealing with a difficult situation, particularly people in a mental or emotional crisis. All officers are trained in de-escalation techniques.
“Every item in the inventory requires some sort of initial and ongoing training and in some cases certification,” Shipley said.
Drones, for example, require Federal Aviation Administration certification and a trained and experienced operator, he said.
Councilmember Keith Blackburn, a retired Carlsbad police officer, said the state legislation is incorrect to identify the gear as “military equipment” because it’s widely used by law enforcement agencies.
“It’s police equipment,” Blackburn said. “It’s not military equipment.”
Councilmembers Teresa Acosta and Priya Bhat-Patel said they support the city’s new policy because of the detail and the transparency it provides to the public.
National City, population 56,000, in San Diego County’s South Bay area adopted a similar policy last month. Since 1993 the city has spent a total of about $1.74 million on military-style gear for its police department of 135 personnel.
The San Diego Police Department presented its military equipment policy in February in a 115-page report that lists armored vehicles, robots, night-vision equipment, aerial drones and more. San Diego police deployed snipers armed with rifles at 125 events in 2021, the report states.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved a similar policy this month for the Sheriff’s Department.
AB 481 requires all law enforcement agencies to introduce their military equipment use policy by May 1 and to approve it within 100 days after that.