Chula Vista approves military gear policy; residents ask why AR-15 rifles aren’t included
Policy is required as part of a state law aimed at transparency
Chula Vista council members have approved an ordinance that requires the Police Department to publicly report its inventory of military equipment to comply with a state law pushing for greater transparency.
Some local activists questioned why the Chula Vista Police Department omitted how many assault rifles it has when others in San Diego County have included them.
Under Assembly Bill 481 passed last year, law enforcement agencies must create a policy with a detailed description of their military-style gear, such as drones, armored vehicles and flashbangs, and include the quantity, expected lifespan, initial and maintenance costs and how it has used them.
The City Council unanimously approved the policy on May 3. CVPD will now be required to list its inventory yearly and get council approval before buying equipment.
“Now that we have this bill that’s increasing transparency, I’m happy about that because the more the public knows, the more they will trust us,” said Mayor Mary Casillas Salas.
More than three dozen people spoke out against the department’s policy over concerns that too much money is invested in military-style gear and that it should instead go toward education and addressing other issues, such as homelessness. CVPD’s military equipment costs $1.98 million, not including maintenance, according to the policy.
Dan Peak, captain of the department’s Investigations Division, said the equipment is needed “to protect the lives of our citizens (and) the lives of our officers. It’s used to deescalate situations and bring situations to a safe resolution.” As an example, department officials credited their use of drones, robots and chemical agents, when officers were involved last year in a 24-hour standoff with a man who claimed to be armed with high-power weapons and barricaded himself inside his home.
Many activists also urged the department to include their inventory of AR-15 rifles on the list in the interest of transparency. Among them was Gretel Rodriguez, a local teacher and community activist who posed the question, “why is (Chula Vista) an outlier in San Diego County” in excluding the assault rifle from its policy?
California does not classify AR-15s as military-grade and AB 481 excludes assault rifles that are standard issue weapons. The AR-15 is considered the civilian version of the military M-16 rifle as features of the AR-15, including semi-automatic fire, are present in popular civilian weapons.
“AB 481 excludes standard issue service weapons from its definition of military equipment. Accordingly, our standard issue service weapons do not need to be listed in our policy,” department spokesperson Sgt. Anthony Molina said via email.
The Police Department declined to say how many AR-15 rifles it has.
Police departments across the U.S., including Chula Vista under its policy manual, have made patrol rifles standard issue service weapons to their officers. In Los Angeles, for example, officers have used them since a 1997 shootout where bank robbers using machine guns outgunned cops who used pistols. Officers on the scene had to get high-powered rifles at a nearby gun shop.
Other police departments in San Diego County have identified assault rifles as standard issue weapons, but included them in their military equipment policies. They are Carlsbad, Coronado, Escondido, National City, Oceanside and San Diego, as well as the county Sheriff’s Office.
Pistols are more commonly used in shootings than assault rifles. In California, more than 760 people died by handguns and 34 by rifles, according to the FBI’s latest statistics on crimes by types of weapons. Still, AR-15 rifles have been used in some of the nation’s mass shootings over the past decade, including at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, a movie theater in Aurora and a workplace in San Bernardino.
“If the AR-15 were truly ‘standard issue,’ they would be wielded by police patrolling downtown Chula Vista or the Eastlake mall. Anyone seeing those assault weapons knows they should not be considered the ‘standard’ in our community,” said local activist Margaret Baker.
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