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Sac City's military equipment use policy - caving to the cops

The background for this piece was formed from the toolkit (linked here) created by the Anti Police Terror Project (APTP) & from community talking points created by the ACLU of Northern California for organizing around this item. Information on the outcomes of the meeting were compiled from conversations with community advocates. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this write-up!


BACKGROUND:


Assembly Bill 481, or AB-481, is a state-level law passed in 2021 in California. It requires state law enforcement agencies’ governing bodies to adopt a written military equipment use (MEU) policy by April 30, 2022. In the case of the Sacramento Police Department this meant the Sacramento City Council had to adopt a MEU policy by the end of April.

This bill was brought forward because of overwhelming damage due to overuse and misuse of military equipment by local law enforcement agencies, particularly in BIPOC communities.


The Sacramento Police Department updated their policy to meet the requirements laid out in AB-481 back in the Spring in order to meet the April 30, 2022 deadline also laid out in the bill. And while it was an improvement from their previous MEU policy that was essentially a vaguely written wish list of weapons aimed to brutalize our city. A list of everything from surveillance drones, to armored vehicles, to chemical weapons and grenade launchers, justified with nothing more than “when a tactical advantage can be ascertained.” On 9/13/22 the SPD's policy came back to the City Council for approval.


The Sacramento Community Police Review Commission (SCPRC) made five recommendations to the Council for changes to be made to the policy before its approval.


Sacramento Police Review Commission’s Recommendations:

  1. Add specific language to GO 410.06 requiring SPD to produce its annual report using Comparative Reporting and Demographic Reporting.

  2. Add specific language to GO 410.06 stating the limits and conditions for when military equipment can be used and cannot be used in compliance with AB 48 and AB 481.

  3. Add specific language to designate independent oversight authority to the Office of Public Safety and Accountability (OPSA), the Inspector General, and the SCPRC to ensure SPD’s compliance with GO 410.06 and AB 481.

  4. Add specific language to GO 410.06 requiring SPD to seek City Council approval before any public or private funding may be spent.

  5. Amend GO 410.06 to limit SPD’s military equipment stockpile and require City Council approval for all annual procurements, acquisitions, or purchases separately from its annual report or policy updates.

SPOILER ALERT: except for an additional approval requirement on the acquisition of new military equipment for the SPD's stockpiles, every SCPRC recommendation was ignored, and the policy was approved.


Some important points:

  • There was no risk of harm, but only the opportunity for benefit in including the commission’s recommendations. It was disturbing to see again that the commissions recommendations were ignored.

  • The commission’s recommendations were thoughtful, easily achievable, and would have helped strengthen SPD’s reporting standards, clarified the funding process and how military equipment was being used, and ensured meaningful transparency regarding the amount of equipment owned.

  • There is nothing in AB 481 that prevents City Council from implementing additional requirements. Just as it declared in approving the new Use of Force policy under AB 392, City council has authority to ensure AB 481 serves as a minimum foundation for SPD transparency and accountability.


Thank you to Mai Vang and Katie Valenzuela, who spoke up against the passage of this policy, and ESCPECIALLY to Councilmember Valenzuela for her well laid out argument against it. See their comments below.




Big NO thank you to Councilmember Harris for his truly stunning rant in favor of the policy. In this clip Harris makes the horribly offensive argument that the real tragedy regarding policing today is how violent community members are against officers, rather than the other way around. Furthermore, he claims to have a history of being out on the streets protesting police violence himself.


PROBLEMS WITH THE SPD'S POLICY:


The numerous reasons the City Council should not have approved this policy have been detailed by our amazing advocacy organizations - you can find them summarized below.


The Police Department’s Policy does not meet the four requirements of AB 481: AB 481 states that the City Council can only approve a Military Equipment Use Policy if it determines that four specific requirements have been satisfied. The police department has not met any requirement, which means it is not in compliance with AB 481.

  • Requirement 1: The police department has not shown the military equipment is necessary. The new law AB 481 requires that “law enforcement must determine that military equipment is necessary because there is no reasonable alternative that can achieve the same objective of officer and civilian safety.” The police department has not satisfied category 1, because SPD’s policy simply restates the legal requirement without providing any explanation for why Sacramento’s police require the weapons. Simply restating the law is insufficient and does not comply with AB 481.

  • Requirement 2: The police department has not shown the military equipment will safeguard the public’s welfare, civil rights, or civil liberties. The new law AB 481 requires that “the proposed military equipment use policy will safeguard the public’s welfare, safety, civil rights, and civil liberties.” As Sacramento residents and victims of police violence have repeatedly declared they feel less safe with the presence of heavily armed law enforcement. As studies also confirm Police officer’s possession of military weapons have escalated situations rather than mitigated any harm, often resulting in serious preventable injuries most notably during the George Floyd protests of 2020, SPD has not proven its policy complies with AB 481.

  • Requirement 3: The police department has not shown the military equipment is cost-effective or that they have tried available alternatives. The new law AB 481 requires the police department’s equipment purchases to be “reasonably cost effective compared to available alternatives that can achieve the same objective of officer and civilian safety.” Though SPD publicly stated its policy only includes the equipment it already has and will not cost the city additional money, it is requesting over $500,000 in new equipment that carries additional costs for maintenance. As written, SPD does not include accurate estimations of the maintenance, replacement, and training for military equipment over multiple years, this policy does not comply with AB 481.

  • Requirement 4: The police department has not shown that is has complied with its own military weapon’s policies in the past. The new law AB 481 requires the Police Department’s “prior military equipment use complied with the military equipment use policy that was in effect at the time, or if prior uses did not comply with the accompanying military equipment use policy, corrective action has been taken to remedy nonconforming uses and ensure future compliance.” But SPD’s prior uses violated federal law that prohibited police officers from shooting at people acting peacefully in a crowd, as it was shown doing during the 2020 George Floyd protests. Rather than implementing corrective action to address these nonconforming uses, SPD denied their misuse and refused to detail any remedies it took to ensure future compliance. Therefore, SPD’s policy does not comply with AB 481.

  • Additionally: AB 481 requires meaningful community engagement and feedback, which did not occur. Sac PD received over 1200 comments from community members stating concerns with the use of military equipment due to past harm committed against members. These comments were discounted. The three “Cops and Coffee” community discussions were not accessible to many residents and did not have any moderation, which resulted in a discussion in which community concerns were discounted and lies were told. The community did not feel heard. Sac PD did not take notes of these comments, and concerns the community shared were not reported out or included in Sac PD’s report.

money used to provide SPD weapons can be reinvested into community needs for mental health care, housing, drug treatment, health, employment, and reparations.

Shoutout to our amazing community members and advocates who gave such powerful public comment against the adoption of this policy! In the video below you will see comments from Keyan Bliss and Flo Cofer.



Councilmember Harris, in retaliation against Keyan's statement about him during MEU public comment, demonstrated his racism and all around tendency to be terrible with a little rant specifically targeting Keyan.


At the end of the Sac City Council meeting on 9/20(?) (a week after Keyan's public comment on the City's MEU policy) Harris used his time speaking, as an elected official, to call out Keyan specifically and demand his removal from the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission (Keyan serves on the SCPRC as a D4 appointee).

  • Harris tried to “cite” comments Keyan has made from years before he was part of the SCPRC as reasons for his removal

  • Harris asked the City Manager to come back to Council with item to call for Keyan’s removal

  • In the same meeting that Harris was complaining about Keyan, he violated Councilmember protocol by refusing to state the land acknowledgment (a practice that is an official piece of Council procedure). Shockingly (sarcasm), Harris always refuses to state the land acknowledgment

If people like Keyan can be removed as appointees because of things they say, or have said previously, no one will want to be a part of commissions like this. Removal for that reason would also be a violation of his first amendment rights. Stay tuned - if there are actions to be taken we will let you know! Harris' comment can be found below.

Back to the scheduled programming...


MEETING OUTCOMES:


The Sac City Council ignored the 5 recommendations of the SCPRC, which were themselves a middle ground solution since many in our community do not feel the police should have access to any military equipment (us included).


One of the Commission's recs resulted in a small policy adjustment, as described in the CapRadio quote listed below.


Recommendation: Amend GO 410.06 to limit SPD’s military equipment stockpile and require City Council approval for all annual procurements, acquisitions, or purchases separately from its annual report or policy updates.


Result:

Quote pulled from this CapRadio piece on the outcomes of the 9/13 City Council meeting:

Under the updated policy, police can order up to 10% of their military equipment-classified stock each year, with approval. The previous version allowed police to do so without council authorization.

During public comment, every statement (except 2) was in opposition to this policy.


It's important to note (once again) that the SCPRC was sidelined and altogether disregarded in their attempts to engage with the SPD and with many members of the City Council. The Commission attempted to communicate with the SPD for months and they were ignored. On 8/26/22 they sent out a meeting request to discuss the policy with City Councilmembers and only 4 of them agreed to meet.


SPD Chief Lester misrepresented the police's interactions with the SCPRC, characterizing the process as if they had been in communication the entire time.

  • The only formal meeting the police had with the SCPRC was in early July of 2022, after the SPD was specifically directed to by the Council's Law & Legislation Committee

Before the aforementioned "Cops & Coffee" meetings, the Commission offered many times to mediate these community conversations. The SPD did not allow this; the meetings took place without a mediator and were (among other things) problematic and traumatizing to those who have been harmed by the police.


The SPD failed to attend SCPRC meetings in August & September - without giving notice.


Since 2018, over 110 recommendations have been put forth by the SCPRC, with only one resulting in robust conversation and approval.


BONUS MATERIAL - CITY COUNCIL UNDERMINES STRENGTH & CAPACITY OF COMMITTEES & COMMISSIONS


On 8/30/22 the Sac City Council discussed an item (16) revising the Sac City Code. What this revision boils down to is that the City Council has officially removed the ability for City committees and commissions to form ad hoc committees. Councilmember Loloee split the vote in favor of eliminating the committees.


Why is this a problem?

  • Because ad hoc committees are where these commissions and committees get the majority of their work done

  • Commissions and committees will now have to request the ability to create subcommittees, and if they are unable to have them then all the work will need to be done in a public meeting

    • It's important to note that these subcommittees do not fall under the purview of the Brown Act (definition pictured below from First Amendment Coalition)

  • Even more importantly - necessitating that all these meetings take place publicly will greatly slow down the ability to get work done because everything will need to take place during one long single meeting

  • Staff are required to be assigned to any newly formed subcommittees - this will be huge impediment because there is not enough available staff for that to be a realistic policy

    • Historically staff have not been provided, and they have not been needed

This boils down to the City Council being bent on disenfranchising the commissions that put up any barriers to their support of the police

  • SCPRC & Measure U were explicitly targeted

  • These boards are advisory in nature; they cannot create any binding decisions - so this type of action is entirely unnecessary

  • This will strongly discourage people from serving on these commissions

Ad hocs have to be closed out by the end of year & requests for newly established subcommittees, which will then have to be staffed, will need to be made.



Side note: the League of Women Voters sent letters in opposing this ad hoc committee elimination policy - Councilmember Ashby tried to claim that they were in support of it.

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