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Oakland Increases Oversight of Military-Style Police Gear

The City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to regulate the police department’s use of “militarized” gear, and the department will be required to submit reports of equipment use and purchases.

(TNS) — The Oakland, Calif., City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance to allow for additional oversight of the police department's use of "militarized" equipment such as armored vehicles, certain ammunition, projectile launchers and tear gas.

The new law requires police to submit policies, impact reports and annual reports about its use or purchase of such equipment to the Oakland Police Commission, a civilian group that oversees police department activities. The commission can then make recommendations to the City Council about how the equipment should be used.

The ordinance is two years in the making. Members of the Oakland Police Commission started drafting it in 2019. But it arrived at the City Council days after it was revealed that more than two dozen Oakland police officers are facing discipline for their tactics against demonstrators following the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by police last spring.

In four investigations into about 300 use-of-force complaints at protests between May 29 and June 1, investigators found 33 instances of officers violating policy on June 1, mostly for the improper deployment of tear gas, according to police officials.

In announcing those findings, Oakland police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said that officers will not be allowed to carry chemical agents without command staff approval.

In a council committee meeting last week, Armstrong expressed concern for the scope of the ordinance and said it would require additional staff support to provide the necessary reports to comply with the ordinance.

He echoed that in a city memo submitted to the council this week, comparing the requirements to those of a city surveillance technology ordinance that "require significant staff time to develop, refine, and present to the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission."

"There will be an increase in the manual workload to implement the necessary requirements," his memo continues. It estimates that the department will need to add four positions at a total of $171,458 in full compensation each, totaling more than 1.3 million.

The City Council will take up the fiscal ramifications on Thursday, when it is slated to have a meeting about the city's budget, which needs to be finalized by the end of the month. City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas will present the budget she created with a team of councilmembers following Mayor Libby Schaaf's proposed budget was unveiled last month.

Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, who introduced the equipment ordinance to the City Council along with council members Noel Gallo and Dan Kalb, said the cost of better regulating militarized equipment by the police department will be worth it in the long run.

"If we pay for a couple of staff to track and protect against improper use but save millions because we won't constantly have injuries and litigation from improper use of military equipment, then we should come out ahead financially and reduce human suffering," Kaplan said after the City Council's vote on Tuesday.

The ordinance will take effect after a second reading by the City Council in July.

(c)2021 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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