San Jose, CA - Police departments around the Bay Area have been updating their policies on the use of military-style equipment for civilian use. The change is in response to a new state law that requires departments to get the approval of their local city council – or board of supervisors – on the use of such equipment.
Next month, the San Jose Police Department will go before the San Jose City Council and request the purchase of two new, specialized, paramilitary vehicles. But, in addition to a normal budget request, the department now has to get the council’s sign-off on when, and how, such equipment can be used.
One piece of equipment being requested is called a "BearCat Medevac." In the case of an active shooter, for example, there may be victims that need to be pulled out of the area before police can even identify the shooter.
"This type of equipment and vehicle is utilized oftentimes in a mass casualty incident," said Officer Steven Aponte, a spokesperson for the San Jose police: Something similar to a shooter or terrorist incident where there is an ongoing threat to the public where there are people who are casualties."
Under a new law recently signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom – known as A.B. 481 – all local police departments must get approval beyond just a budget for such gear. Police departments must also report annually on what equipment they have, how it is being used, and document and report on any complaints.
Aponte said "In addition to that our community members have asked many times over for transparency and a little bit of an inside view here at the police department and we have heard them."
Many other Bay Area departments have been going through the same process in recent weeks including Piedmont, San Mateo, Novato, Brentwood, Daly City, Santa Clara and Los Gatos among others.
In the case of San Jose, the department is also requesting this modified tractor called a "Rook" for members of its bomb squad to safely approach and neutralize any kind of hazardous device.
"This type of equipment, even though it is not used on a daily basis, is used in critical incidents in a very serious emergency," Aponte said.
Speaking about the issue of police using military-style equipment in general, Russell Bates, with the group Berkeley Cop Watch says his group believes local departments should not have such equipment at all. But, Bates said, he feels the new reporting requirements are a good step because changing long-term policy on issues such as these takes time.
The Medevac unit being requested by San Jose Police costs approximately $450,000 and the "Rook" unit for the bomb squad can range between $329,000 and $567,000 depending on the options selected.