AFSC letter to California AG Bonta on noncompliance with AB481

April 3, 2024

Dear Attorney General Bonta,

AB 481 (California Code Sections 7070-7073) articulates a number of clear requirements for law enforcement agencies, state agencies, and local governing bodies regarding policies for use of military equipment. We are writing to respectfully request that Cal DOJ issue guidance to support compliance with these clearly articulated requirements.

We have observed many instances of noncompliance with the legislation’s clear requirements by city, county, and state agencies. We believe that guidance from DOJ would help reduce such instances of noncompliance with state law. The examples of noncompliance listed below reflect only those public documents that we have been able to survey; there are likely many more. 

1.     Military equipment use policy is made publicly available on law enforcement agency and state agency websites. (Sections 7071 (b), 7071 (d)(2), and 7073 (c)(1))

Nearly two years after AB481 required them to do so, some state and law enforcement agencies have yet to post any military equipment use policy on their website. These include sheriff departments in Del NortePlumas, and Trinity Counties, and California Highway Patrol.

2.     Military equipment use policy includes all required components. (Sections 7070 (d)), 7072 (a) and 7073 (c))

Section 7070 (d) lists seven components of a military equipment use policy, including one that contains multiple elements (description, quantity, capabilities, life span and product description).[1] Unfortunately, agencies that rely on Lexipol may overlook the full list of policy components; Lexipol standard policies list other provisions of AB 481, but they omit the list of use policy components. Specific issues of noncompliance include:

  • Complete omission of military equipment inventory and respective policies from military equipment policy: Sheriff’s Offices in AlpineHumboldtSan Luis Obispo  and Shasta Counties; California Highway Patrol. These agencies also omit the following components of use policies.
  • Omission of quantities of each equipment type from military equipment use policies: CDCRRiverside County Sheriff’s Office
  • Omission of purpose and authorized uses: Sheriff’s Offices in Lassen and Imperial Counties
  • Omission of fiscal costs of equipment: Riverside County Sheriff’s Office
  • Omission of product information, such as model numbers: Sheriff’s Departments in FresnoImperial, and Riverside Counties; Los Altos PD.
  • Omission of legal and procedural rules that govern each authorized use: Sheriff’s Departments in Imperial, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties
  • Omission of independent entity to oversee compliance with the policy: The vast majority of military equipment policies do not name such an independent entity. In some cases, the law enforcement agency itself is named (e.g. “The Sheriff shall be considered the ultimate authority for compliance with department policy, and all applicable federal, state, and local laws.” Fresno County Sheriff policy).

3.     Law enforcement agencies with an approved military equipment use policy annually publish a report on use of military equipment on their web site. (Section 7072 (a))

Several law enforcement agencies did not publish a military equipment use report in 2023, and have yet to do so in 2024[2], despite approval of military equipment policies in 2022. These include sheriff departments in ColusaFresno[3]GlennImperial, InyoLassenMono, NapaPlumas, and Riverside counties, and police departments in FontanaInglewood2, OceansidePomonaSan Francisco and San Jose. Law enforcement agencies that have not published any military equipment policy (see #1 above) have also not published annual reports on use of military equipment.

4.     Military equipment annual use reports include fiscal costs for acquisition, maintenance, training, personnel, and upgrades for military equipment owned by a law enforcement agency. (Section 7072 (a)(4)

The vast majority of law enforcement agencies in California have not reported on costs for personnel for the use of military equipment, and most have not reported on training costs for that equipment, despite Section 7072’s clear requirement to report on these costs. 

5.     Military equipment annual use reports include purposes for the uses of military equipment during the previous year. (Section 7072 (a) (1))

Some agencies reported on the numbers of uses but not the purposes of use (e.g. Santa Monica PD), or did not report numbers of uses (Stockton PDSutter County Sheriff’s Office). In addition, those agencies that have not published any military equipment annual report (see #4) have, as a consequence, also not reported on purposes of use. 

AB 481 has other clear requirements for which compliance is more difficult to document, but would be important to describe in a guidance document. These include that governing bodies approve military equipment policies by ordinance, both initially (within six months of law enforcement agency policy submission) and annually. (Section 7071 (a) through (e)), and that law enforcement agencies hold “at least one well- publicized and conveniently located community engagement meeting, at which the general public may discuss and ask questions,” within 30 days of publishing its annual report on military equipment use (Section 7072 (b)).

In summary, state law AB 481 articulates a set of unambiguous requirements for law enforcement agencies and state agencies, for which there are many examples of noncompliance. We strongly urge you to issue guidance to law enforcement and state agencies that outlines these requirements under AB 481. 

We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to review these points.


John Lindsay-Poland, Program Co-director
Jennifer Tu, Program Associate
American Friends Service Committee
California Healing Justice Program

[1] For state agencies, use policies do not include procedures for registering complaints or concerns.

[2] As of April 2, 2024.

[3] Policy approved in January 2023.