Council to hear public’s thoughts on police use of military equipment

On the agenda at Thursday’s Palm Springs City Council meeting is a public hearing about the use of military equipment by local police.

Driving the news: AB481 was signed into law in 2021 and requires cities to adopt an official policy on the uses of each type of military equipment as well as appropriate training and methods by which citizens can make complaints about the use of military equipment.

But why? After the 2020 protests for racial justice swept the state, some lawmakers balked at local law enforcement using military equipment against protesters at largely peaceful gatherings. This law is meant to provide more transparency and accountability between law enforcement and the public.

Details: Not just any officer can use the military equipment. That’s reserved for S.W.A.T. teams. The Palm Springs Police Department formed its S.W.A.T. team in 1978. Two decades later the Cathedral City department joined in, and in 2014 Indio’s department was added. Collectively they are known as Desert Regional S.W.A.T. A city staff report lists an inventory of all the military equipment currently available to its members, including:

  • An ICOR MK3 caliber robot used to open doors, disrupt packages, and clear buildings.
  • Two Lenco BearCats (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter-Attack Trucks).
  • 15 Colt AR 15/M16 semi-automatic rifles acquired through the 1033 program which allows surplus military equipment to be transferred to local police at no cost.

What’s at stake: Local activists will be looking to the City Council to ensure proper oversight of the police department and policies that don’t leave room for legal loopholes and the use of military equipment against peaceful demonstrators. 

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  • For example: Culver City’s policy on tear gas specifically states it should not be used against people who “merely fail to disperse.” PSPD’s proposed guidance on tear gas is less specific and allows for tear gas to be used for “crowd control and civil unrest incidents” as well as during “approved demonstrations”

Next Steps: Discussion over the adoption of the military equipment policy was pulled from the consent calendar for Thursday’s City Council meeting, meaning councilmembers want to have further discussion before approving the ordinance. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. and the ordinance is listed as agenda Item 2C. Find participation and viewing instructions here.


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