CARLSBAD — The Carlsbad City Council on April 19 adopted a policy allowing the “funding, acquisition or use of military equipment by the Carlsbad Police Department” as required under state law.
The council approved the city police department’s Military Equipment Use policy, which is now required for any municipal law enforcement agency seeking to utilize “military equipment” under state Assembly Bill 481.
“Today’s police departments must use a wide range of equipment to protect public safety and provide law enforcement in the communities they serve,” the staff report states. “Much of this equipment is also used by the military.”
Allegra Frost, Carlsbad’s deputy city attorney, said items considered to be “military equipment” include drones, armored personnel carriers, command control vehicles, firearms of a .50 caliber or greater, assault weapons, less-lethal projectiles (rubber bullets, bean bags, sponge rounds) and chemical agents (glass breakers, pepper balls, gas-powered rams, barricade penetrating rounds).
The policy requires Carlsbad Police to keep an inventory and “detailed” description of each piece of equipment, including purposes and authorized uses, fiscal impacts, legal and procedural rules, required officer training, and mechanisms for compliance and public accountability.
Additionally, state law requires the City Council to “review the ordinance each year along with an annual military equipment report to be prepared by the Police Department,” according to the staff report. The council will determine whether to renew the ordinance on an annual basis.
The Carlsbad Police Department identified 53 pieces of equipment currently in its inventory that meets the definition of “military equipment” as defined under the law, including assault weapons, armored vehicles, night vision monoculars (goggles), rifle suppressors, breaching rounds and a Lenco Bearcat, an armored vehicle for SWAT.
Lt. Reid Shipley said many of the items already in possession by Carlsbad police are “essential” for de-escalation. According to Shipley, approximately 83% of the equipment is limited to SWAT and just 17% is deployed for regular patrols.
“SWAT receives extra training … concerning environments threatening public safety,” Shipley said. “We have refresher training and regular certifications.”
Shipley further explained items, such as drones, are deployed for large-scale events, including the Village Street Fair and Carlsbad Marathon.
According to the staff report, the equipment is necessary because “there are no reasonable alternatives that can achieve the same objective of officer and community safety.” The report states the demands created by emergency situations and legitimate law enforcement investigations must be constantly balanced with the protection of privacy expected by every member of the public.
Councilman Keith Blackburn, a former CPD officer and current reserve officer, said the bill was mislabeled.
“It’s police equipment, not military equipment,” Blackburn said.
Some of the military equipment items provide real-time information to police and enable them to develop appropriate plans before entering into potentially dangerous situations.
The technology items, such as the throw robot and aerial drone, allow officers to actually interact with individuals from a safe distance, keeping officers out of harm’s way and significantly reducing the potential for violent encounters.
The less-lethal equipment on the list (bean bags, sponge rounds) provides critical alternatives to lethal force in violent interactions with people who are often armed and represent a significant danger to the public, while lethal weapons, such as long-range rifles, provide the essential de-escalation component of time and distance while still enabling officers to immediately respond with accurate, life-saving force.