AB 481 – Restricts Law Enforcement Purchases And Use Of Military Equipment

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies, Fire Watch, Law Enforcement Briefing Room
CLIENT TYPE: Public Employers, Public Safety
DATE: Nov 03, 2021

Assembly Bill 481 is intended to increase transparency, accountability, and oversight surrounding the acquisition and use of military equipment by state and local law enforcement, including but not limited to armored or weaponized vehicles, large-caliber firearms, explosive projectile launchers, explosive breaching tools, or “flashbang” grenades.

To this end, it requires any law enforcement agency to obtain approval from the agency’s governing body before purchasing, raising funds for, or acquiring military equipment, by any means, including requesting surplus military equipment from the federal government. Agencies are also required to seek governing body approval before collaborating with another law enforcement agency in the deployment or use of military equipment within the governing body’s territorial jurisdiction, or before using any new or existing military equipment in for a purpose, in a manner, or by a person not previously approved by the governing body.

Governing body approval under AB 481 must take the form of an ordinance adopting a publicly released, written military equipment use policy, which must address a number of specific topics, including the type, quantity, capabilities, purposes, and authorized uses of each type of military equipment, the fiscal impact of their acquisition and use, the legal and procedural rules that govern their use, the training required by any officer allowed to use them, the mechanisms in place to ensure policy compliance, and the procedures by which the public may register complaints. The governing body must consider a proposed military equipment use policy in open session, and may only approve a military equipment use policy if it makes various specific findings regarding the necessity of the military equipment and the lack of reasonable alternatives.

For cities that contract with another entity for law enforcement services, such as the County Sheriff, AB 481 gives the city the independent authority to adopt its own military equipment use policy based on local community needs.

For law enforcement agencies that already have existing military equipment, AB 481 provides a temporary exemption, but requires agencies to seek governing body approval for the continued use of that equipment no later than May 1, 2022.

AB 481 also requires any law enforcement agency that receives approval for the use of military equipment to submit annual reports to the governing body regarding the use of the equipment, any complaints received, any internal audits or other information about violations of the military equipment use policy, the cost of such use, and other similar information.

(AB 481 adds Chapter 12.8 (commencing with Section 7070) to Division 7 of Title 1 of the Government Code.)

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