Gear: Santa Monica’s police equipment is designed for police, not military, use. SMDP Photo

Military-style equipment is not a new tool in the Santa Monica Police Department’s arsenal, but per a new state bill it must now have a use policy approved by City Council. 

While only two pieces of SMPD’s equipment were directly purchased from military surplus, the Santa Monica Police Department, like other major police departments, has a significant inventory of items that qualify as military equipment under Assembly Bill 481. This includes, but is not limited to unmanned, remotely piloted, powered aerial or ground vehicles; Humvees; command and control vehicles; breaching apparatuses that are explosive in nature; flashbangs; and firearms and ammunition of .50 caliber or greater.

The new military use policy serves three key functions. It provides a publicly available inventory and cost summary of the equipment; it outlines the training and authorization requirements for the equipment to be deployed; and it establishes an annual report and opportunity for individuals to provide input on the department’s use of military equipment.

City Council unanimously approved the initial reading of the policy in an April 26 meeting. Council also required that the department bring the policy before the Public Safety Reform and Oversight Committee for input before it returns to Council for final approval. 

The inventory of the drafted use policy lists 32 different types of military equipment, including drones, armored vehicles, a mobile command post, less lethal munitions and breaching tools.

“The equipment that we have on hand, although deemed military equipment by California law, is equipment that was made solely for domestic policing, domestic public safety in the United States,” said Police Chief Ramon Batista. 

According to the use policy, the only two items that SMPD purchased through a military surplus program are two spotting scopes designed to recognize objects at a long distance. In general, SMPD’s military equipment is used to assist in specialized emergency situations.

“When it comes to our inventory of this type of equipment, it doesn’t mean that it’s used on a daily basis, most of the time in our city items like this are only used during critical incidents, whether it be a special weapons and tactics team [SWAT] call out, which is a variety of critical situations; kidnapping, bank robberies, hostages, things like that, that we don’t normally see every day,” said Captain Candice Cobarrubias.

One highly useful piece of technology for emergency situations is SMPD’s mobile command post. This is a command-and-control vehicle equipped with communication and audio-visual devices that allows for decision making and resource placement to be deployed by the scene of an incident. During the 2013 Santa Monica College shooting, the mobile command post was key for coordinating all mutual aid resources. 

SMPD also has a BearCat large armored vehicle that provides ballistic protection to officers and citizens, allowing SMPD to maneuver close to a threat and complete critical rescue missions. The large vehicle can seat 10 to 12 officers and is also utilized by the LAPD, NYPD and Boston PD. 

Other key parts of SMPD’s military equipment include less lethal munitions, drones and breaching tools. Drones help the department obtain aerial coverage of high risk locations and guide the strategic deployment of resources. Less lethal munitions are used to disperse violent or rioting crowds and have strict guidelines around when they may be deployed. Breaching tools such as battering rams allow officers to enter barricaded locations, which can be critical during kidnapping or active shooter incidents. 

The drafted policy and full inventory of SMPD’s military equipment can be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/SMPDMilitaryEquipment.

Clara@smdp.com