Berkeley approves oversight and transparency measure for all militarized equipment used by police
BERKELEY, CA: On April 27, the City Council in Berkeley, California unanimously passed an ordinance to oversee and make transparent militarized police equipment used for crowd control and SWAT operations. The measure applies to all such equipment, whether or not police get it from the Pentagon.
"Responding to community calls to rein in war equipment in our communities, Berkeley will now require use policies, civilian government decisions, and public reporting on the weaponry police deploy," said John Lindsay-Poland of the American Friends Service Committee. “This is an important step that reflects years of public advocacy by community groups working to end police violence, lack of transparency, and the militarization of our neighborhoods.”
Berkeley’s Controlled Equipment Ordinance governs whether and how police use assault rifles, armored vehicles, “less lethal” launchers, chemical agents, battering rams, long batons, and sound devices known as Long Range Acoustic Devices that can damage hearing. It requires police to submit use policies to the city’s strengthened Police Accountability Board and for these policies to be approved by the City Council. The police department will also be required to submit annual reports on the uses of approved equipment.
City Council Member Kate Harrison first proposed the measure last July after police responded to widespread protests against racism with militarized gear. The measure was extensively vetted by Berkeley’s Police Review Commission, with input from community advocates and the Police Department.
"We worked in depth to make this ordinance not duplicate other polices," said Commissioner Nathan Mizell, who chaired the committee that worked on the ordinance. “I have personal experience of deployments of this type of militarized equipment. As a Black man, it feels different."
Other cities, such as Charlottesville, VA, have banned Pentagon surplus equipment, and some have restricted types of weapons such as rubber bullets or tear gas. The Berkeley ordinance is unique because it applies to a range of militarized equipment and includes city purchases.
"We applaud the Berkeley City Council for their unanimous vote on the groundbreaking Controlled Equipment Ordinance," said Sameena Usman, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-SFBA. "Transparency, accountability, and oversight are critical in the use of such militarized weapons, especially because of the disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities."