Reedley Police receive military tools for city security


Reedley Police Department gets the OK from Reedley City Council on the use of military equipment for city protection

Photo by Kenny Goodman
The Reedley Police Department uses this remote controlled robot to search a home or building before sending officers into a potentially dangerous situation.

REEDLEY – To ensure safety and transparency for the city, the Reedley Police Department is required by the state to report the use of any military-labeled devices to the city council.
Although the equipment used by Reedley Police Department is not used by the military, it is still considered military equipment on the state’s account and must be approved by the Reedley City Council. Police chief Joe Garza presented the department’s annual report of the equipment to city council for approval of its use on Feb. 28.
“We are very aware of what the needs are in our community as far as safety, but any equipment that we are going to get, if it falls into these parameters, city council is going to know about it,” Garza said to council.
Reedley Police Department is required to make these reports because of Assembly Bill (AB) 481. Passed in 2021, the law ensures that police departments get approval from governing bodies, like city councils, to purchase, acquire and use what is considered military equipment. In an interview with Mid Valley Times, Garza said the bill likely came about as a way to keep transparency between police departments and the cities they were serving; because at one point, it wasn’t there.
Although this was observed more along the coastal region, Garza said some cities along the bay area were not aware of specific equipment being utilized by their law enforcement. An example he provided was MRAPs—mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles–otherwise known as armored cars. These vehicles were used by the military at one point during the Iraq war, and later decommissioned, so law enforcement agencies were able to acquire or purchase them for their own uses.
This created some confusion, according to Garza, because cities and communities were not aware of their department’s acquisition of these vehicles. This meant when the vehicles were seen on duty, assumptions were made that the military was present in cities.
“It was local law enforcement, but they were utilizing it to protect their personnel because these are bullet-resistant types of vehicles, so it made sense [to have them],” Garza said. “So part of the law was to allow for city councils to be made aware of it to authorize the purchase or acquisition.”
With AB 481, now California cities have a way to stay up-to-date on what tools their police departments are buying, gaining and using in their arsenal of equipment. Additionally, if a city council decides that a specific piece of equipment is not necessary for the police department, they have the option to deny its acquisition.
On another note, Garza said putting the equipment under a military-type category isn’t always an accurate representation of the tools. Although armored vehicles have been used in war-settings, there are some that are made specifically to be sold to law enforcement agencies. Additionally, aerial drones, which are also considered military equipment in California, can be purchased online by anyone; so he said labeling them as strictly military doesn’t always translate well and can give people the impression that the tools are something they are not.
“Nonetheless, the law was signed in and we’re just obligated at this point to abide by it,” Garza said.
Also on par with state law, the department will hold a public meeting in Reedley City Council chambers on March 21, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. This way, the city’s residents have a chance to see the equipment being used by Reedley officers. Garza said it will be a lot like a show-and-tell type of meeting and residents interested in learning more about the equipment can attend to take a look and ask questions.
“It increases that transparency between us and the community, so there are no secrets,” Garza said.
In-use military equipment at Reedley Police Department
The report Garza made, which was approved by council, was just a recap of what is currently used by the department. He said additional equipment or replacements will be asked for when the department’s annual budget is put together later this year.
“[Eventually] we’re looking at increasing our drone supply, so that we can put them out in the field a lot more instead of officers having to check them out daily,” Garza said.
According to Garza’s report to council, military equipment currently included in the arsenal of the Reedley Police Department includes three unmanned aerial drones. These consist of two smaller sized devices and one larger version with night vision capabilities. Within the year, Garza said these were used various times for field searches, helping with in-progress burglaries, suspect apprehensions, brandishing of firearms, rooftop searches and stolen vehicle recoveries. They can also be used to document crime scenes and traffic collisions.
“In the 27 times that we used these drones, a lot of times we were very successful in locating suspects and what we were looking for,” Garza said.
According to his report, the larger drone cost the department about $10,000 and the smaller models were purchased for about $1,000 each. For this year’s budget, Garza said the department wants to obtain more smaller drone models for officers to check out. However, he said the department only plans to purchase a couple or so to avoid spending funds on a large quantity of equipment and risk eventually working with heaps of outdated tools.
Another piece of equipment used by the department is a PacBot Model robot, which is an unmanned, remotely piloted ground vehicle that was obtained by the department from the military through the 1033 program. The 1033 program transfers excess equipment from the U.S. Armed Forces to civilian law enforcement agencies requesting them.
Garza said this piece of equipment is used primarily for video purposes. He said the department is able to send it into a home or building and have a look around it before sending in any officers.
“We can identify threats, we can actually communicate through this robot with anyone that we find inside the buildings to be able to get them to surrender peacefully so we don’t have to subject our officers to any sort of danger,” Garza said.
The department also utilizes flashbangs and a 40 millimeter launcher. According to Garza, no flashbangs were used in 2022 except for training purposes and the launcher, which uses non-lethal sponge rounds, is used as an option for a less lethal opportunity.
“If we have someone at a distance, we can have several rounds loaded into this and we actually try to get an individual to comply with order so we can safely take them into custody,” Garza said.
Garza said the department did need to utilize the launcher during a homicide suspect search, where they also used the robot, and another time during an officer involved shooting to breach a car window that the individual was sitting near. This was done to access the individual from a distance and get more information on whether they were an active threat.
“These items are deemed—because of the state—military equipment, but as you can see none of this equipment is utilized by our military,” Garza said. “That is the unfortunate term that was utilized by the state, and we are bound by that language to utilize it.”
The items that are deemed military level by the state are a component of the best general practices for law enforcement agencies nationwide, according to the staff report on the matter. It states that these tools have been tested in the field and are used by law enforcement to enhance community and officer safety.
According to the staff report, the Reedley Police Department is committed to using the most up-to-date tools and equipment as a way to safeguard the community of Reedley. The items that are labeled as military grade are used by the department and other law enforcement agencies in the country to reduce any risk to community members specifically. The report stated that this equipment provides peace officers with the ability to safely resolve volatile situations.