To comply with state law, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office has developed a “military” equipment use policy, which the county’s Board of Supervisors approved this month.

The state law, Assembly Bill 481, requires law enforcement to bring a military equipment use policy for local government to approve.

County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos told the board that while the Sheriff’s Office does not have equipment used by the military, they created a policy in the interest of transparency.

“There was some indication that AB 481 was intended to apply only to equipment actually used by the military. The Sheriff’s Office has no such equipment,” Bolanos said. “However, many have interpreted the law more broadly to include certain general types of equipment that fall within the categories listed in AB 481 but that are not actually purchased by the military from military sources.”

Equipment that would be regulated under the new policy include drones, BearCat vehicles, firearms and ammunition of a .50 caliber or greater, tear gas, grenades, projectile launchers, rubber bullets and other types of specialty equipment.

Previously, use of such equipment would have been regulated under internal policies.

What the policy covers

Lieutenant Eamonn Allen with the Sheriff’s Office said that the policy would govern how this equipment is funded, acquired and used. Staff would be trained and required to report on any use.

He said the equipment is designed to “bring dangerous incidents safely under control, to mitigate risks to Sheriff’s Office personnel as well as the public or prevent loss of life in the absence of any further options.”

For example, remotely controlled equipment like drones can be used to help locate and rescue people from remote locations.

The law also requires the Sheriff’s Office to produce an annual report regarding the use of any “military” equipment and hold a public meeting within a month of releasing the report.

A slide from a presentation made to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors shows various types of military-style equipment that are covered under a new transparency policy, although the county Sheriff’s Office currently does not have any such equipment. (Image courtesy of San Mateo County)

The proposed policy and this year’s report are available online. The next report is due in May 2023.

County supervisors voted in support of the proposed use policy, except Supervisor Warren Slocum who expressed concern over the use of the word “military” and how it may be received by some communities.

David Silberman, chief deputy county attorney, said that this was something they struggled with when preparing the presentation.

“We wanted to be transparent and it was hard because the legislature calls it ‘military equipment’ when it’s really not military equipment,” Silberman said. “But to call the presentation something other than ‘military equipment’ also didn’t seem very transparent.”

More information on this item from Board of Supervisors’ April 19 meeting is available online.