Sophisticated bomb squad robots, large-caliber guns, special bullets that can penetrate glass and metal, explosive cartridges that can burst through locks, a wide variety of drones – all this is in the arsenal of the Sheriff Department. In total, the department has enough military-style equipment to fill a 72-page report.
Some of that equipment will be on display ahead of a state-mandated public forum set for Monday, where sheriff’s officials will explain how the equipment and weapons are intended to be used and field questions and concerns residents offer.
The forum is set to begin at 6:30 PM at the County Operations Center in Kearny Mesa. Among the items expected to be at the scene are an armored tactical vehicle known as a Bearcat, robots used by SWAT and bomb squads, as well as night vision goggles, bulletproof vests and less lethal shotguns.
The session is required under a new California law that seeks to increase transparency, accountability and oversight of the use of military-style equipment by state and local law enforcement agencies.
Under Assembly Bill 481, which took effect last year, law enforcement agencies across the state must receive permission from boards — like the county Board of Supervisors — to continue using the equipment they already have before buying more. The law also requires agencies to annually report their military equipment inventory, its cost and use, and to hold a community commitment meeting.
Items were purchased with grants, Sheriff’s Department funds or were donated.
The report details the department’s overall inventory as well as specific purchases made in 2022. The most expensive piece of equipment acquired in the past year was a bomb squad robot that cost $431,632, funded by a federal grant that covers urban security initiatives.
Other purchases made in 2022 included $4,000 of explosive fragmentation rounds and devices, which the department said are “consumables” used throughout the year as needed, and $11,437 of flash-bang grenades and pepper balls. The department also spent $110,872 on 40mm launchers and the less lethal beanbags and munitions they fire.
As for the future, the report said the department plans to purchase an armored tracked vehicle, an armored personnel carrier, an additional bomb squad robot and a command and control vehicle.
While law enforcement officials view military equipment as tools that can protect officers and the public during dangerous or potentially dangerous situations, critics have said it creates a strong show of force that terrorizes neighborhoods, especially communities of color.
Command personnel from several Sheriff’s Department units plan to attend the forum and answer questions from the public as well as listen to any concerns attendees may have, said sheriff’s Lt. Chris Galve.
“It’s all about (about) transparency” and allowing residents to learn “why we have these things, their purpose, their intended use,” Galve said.
The Sheriff Department’s equipment report was approved by the Board of Supervisors at an April meeting. The law requires that the report be posted on the department’s website.
No complaints or concerns have been filed with the Sheriff’s Department about its use of military equipment, according to the report. There were also no violations of policy regarding the use of military equipment, and an audit determined that all items were used “within policy and in accordance with all laws,” the report said.
“People have questions about this and this is a great opportunity for us to come together with the community to say, ‘This is what we have and this is why we have it,’ and it’s really for public safety ,” Galve said.
Department officials said the equipment is widely used by its specially trained SWAT teams during critical incidents or tactical operations, although patrol, courthouse and jail deputies are also equipped with less lethal weapons, such as beanbag shotguns and pepper spray.