San Jose, CA - A new state law is requiring police departments to disclose all the military-style equipment they currently have in inventory. On Tuesday, the San Jose Police Department provided its list and it is 93 pages long. The new law also requires the adoption of specific policies about when such equipment can be used.
Police encounter all sorts of emergencies and putting specific policies on which equipment will be used, and when, can be a difficult proposition. The newly-released list from SJPD includes drones, remotely-controlled vehicles and robots, humvee-style vehicles and a wide range of rifles, shotguns and smoke grenades.
When asked if the length of the list could be surprising to members of the public, Police Chief Anthony Mata said: "It can be. I mean these are types of equipment that have been in our inventory for years." Chief Mata, and his command staff, appeared in front of the San Jose City Council on Tuesday to discuss the issue of military-style equipment and how it is used.
Under a new state law – AB 481 – every law enforcement agency must disclose which military-style gear it has and also adopt specific policies on how it is used. As SJPD is part of the City of San Jose it is up to the council to formally sign off on those policies with a focus on public accountability.
In an interview, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said: "It is a necessity today in urban policing with active shootings in the headlines every single day that officers need to be able to have the tools to keep themselves safe and keep the public safe."
Mayor Liccardo also said any newly adopted policies need to go beyond just telling the public the circumstances when military-style will be used. "What is critical is for the public to know when those tools are not going be used and for us to hold ourselves accountable to those limitations," Liccardo said.
SJPD is also requesting two new military style items – what is called a "BearCat Medvac" and another called a "ROOK." Together they cost about $1.1 million. The council did not formally approve those purchases just yet and will check to see if federal grant funding might be available to purchase the items. The police department also agreed to provide specific policies to the council for using this new equipment if and when it is eventually purchased.
Police Chief Mata said he hopes the public disclosure – and transparency -- will help build public trust. "This is equipment used not only by San Jose Police – but by other departments – to keep our community safe, to keep our officers safe, and it is the only reasonable alternative when specific situations occur," Mata said.
This is not the last time the police department will appear before the city council about military equipment policies. The new state law also requires ongoing annual reports including information about any complaints received from the public.