Community questions safety of county sheriff's "scattershot" munitions

Alameda County's recently elected Sheriff proposed increasing inventory of military equipment, prompting questions both about the equipment and on the new Sheriff's commitment to changing the status quo.

By Jennifer Tu


John Lindsay-Poland, Co-Director

California Healing Justice Program

1730 Franklin St. #201
Oakland, CA 94612

Thanks to state law "AB 481", Californians have the opportunity to learn about and comment on local law enforcement agencies' use of equipment classified under state law as "military equipment".  This equipment may include drones, armored vehicles, assault rifles, tear gas, and more.

On Thursday June 22, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office sought to increase their inventory of military equipment, with new drone and "less lethal" purchases.  AB 481 requires law enforcement agencies to receive pre-authorization for inventory changes, and requires local city and county governments to consider a number of factors prior to granting authorization, including if the proposed military equipment use policy will safeguard the public’s welfare, safety, civil rights, and civil liberties.

The governing body must also determine if there are alternatives to the military equipment that could achieve the same objective of officer and civilian safety.  By state law, if these determinations cannot be made, local governing bodies are prohibited from approving the requested changes.

At Thursday's meeting of the County Board of Supervisors' Public Protection Committee, the county sheriff proposed to allocate $120,000 to purchase 18 new drones to add to its fleet of 156 drones, and also proposed purchasing over 1,300 "scattershot" grenades and other munitions.   These munitions are described by Physicians for Human Rights as “indiscriminate” and unable to be aimed.

Some 20 community members spoke at the hybrid public hearing, raising concerns over the safety of the "scattershot" munitions.  Dr. Rohini Haar, an internationally recognized researcher and co-author of "Lethal in Disguise", called in to share her expertise on the dangers of scattershots.  Some community members condemned the new sheriff's continuation of the status quo and the use of these weapons on mentally ill prisoners, and called for moving away from continuing practices such as increasing military equipment inventory.

Public Safety Committee Chair Supervisor Márquez listened carefully to the points raised by both staff from the Sheriff's Office and community members, then sent the policy back to the Sheriff with a request to report to the Public Protection Committee with data on the use of scattershots both in and out of the county jail over the last two years.  Community members plan to continue their calls to stop stockpiling military equipment, and for an outright ban on scattershot munitions.

Click to watch the full public hearing