Does San Jose need a military-grade arsenal?
SJPD officers in front of San Jose City Hall during protests in summer 2020. File photo.

    The San Jose Police Department must annually account for all the military-grade equipment in its arsenal, and advocates are asking for more information on how and why this equipment is used.

    Although the city council unanimously approved the department’s annual report summarized by San Jose Police Lt. Justin Moro at last week’s meeting, residents questioned allowing the use of such high-grade equipment and said the report, as approved, was incomplete.

    Victor Sin, chair of the Santa Clara Valley Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, urged councilmembers not to approve the report until more details were added, including how weapons were used and the reasons for using them.

    “We encourage you to take this opportunity not only to determine whether each piece of military equipment has complied with the standards for reporting approval, but to also review and update the military equipment use policy,” Sin said at the meeting.

    According to the annual police report, the department has more than 2,000 pieces of military-grade equipment, ranging from armored vehicles to assault weapons. Of the estimated $1.5 million in costs to maintain, operate and purchase equipment in the last year, more than $340,000 was spent on specialized firearms and assault weapons, which include AR-15 rifles.

    During Cinco de Mayo weekend celebrations in downtown, police officers were seen patrolling the festivities with AR-15 rifles. José Valle, a community organizer with Silicon Valley De-Bug, an organization that advocates for criminal justice reform, questions the need for such high-powered weapons.

    “I don’t see why they would be walking around with AR-15s (at a) cultural celebration,” Valle told San José Spotlight.

    SJPD declined to respond to questions about the department’s use of military-grade equipment.

    The report is the result of a city policy approved last June, guiding how the police department should pay for, acquire and use certain types of gear considered military-level—including armored vehicles, various rifles and shotguns, and unmanned aircraft or drones.

    SJPD’s use of military-grade equipment has raised concern within the community, especially after the department’s response to protests against police violence in 2020.

    “We saw people permanently injured. We’ve seen people traumatized. We’ve certainly seen the chilling effect of what that weaponry does to people’s right to protest,” Raj Jayadev, co-founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, told San José Spotlight. “So that’s what the city is investing in.”

    A 2022 report by the city’s Independent Police Auditor found nearly a third of San Jose police officers had at least one complaint filed against them in 2021, and 16% of complaints involved allegations about use of force.

    “The community is not the enemy,” Rev. Jeff Moore, president of San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP, told San José Spotlight. “The fact that they’ve had such a bad history of interaction with the community when it comes to crowd control… They have proved themselves unworthy in handling the crowd already. Now we give them this?”

    Contact Elena Neale-Sacks at [email protected] and on Twitter at @elenaneale17.

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