Alameda County residents can put questions to the sheriff’s office about how they buy, train with and use some military-style hardware. Credit: Alameda County Sheriff’s Office

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office will be taking questions Friday on its purchase, possession and use of military equipment.

A law passed in 2021 requires law enforcement agencies to get permission from their governing bodies — in the case of the sheriff’s office, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors — before they can fund, purchase or use the hardware.

Each agency must also develop its military equipment use policy and, each year, must issue a report on how it used that equipment and hold a community engagement meeting within a month of filing the report.

Berkeleyside’s coverage of the meeting can be read in this thread on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Military equipment is more frequently deployed in low-income Black and Brown communities, meaning the risks and impacts of police militarization are experienced most acutely in marginalized communities,” the text of the law’s introduction reads. “The lack of a public forum to discuss the acquisition of military equipment jeopardizes the relationship police have with the community, which can be undermined when law enforcement is seen as an occupying force rather than a public safety service.”

The sheriff’s office filed its most recent annual report Oct. 20. It covers the period between Nov. 20, 2022 — shortly after the supervisors approved the agency’s military equipment use policy — and Sept. 30.

The agency’s drones were, far and away, put into play most frequently, accounting for 481 out of 593 uses of military equipment, according to the agency’s report.

The sheriff’s office rolled out its mobile response vehicles 73 times, a command vehicle six times, a ballistic armored tactical transport once and its “Bearcat” armored vehicle 12 times, according to the report.

The agency also used various robots eight times and less-lethal rounds or distraction devices a dozen times, according to the report.

An appendix to the report indicates how each item was used in the execution of search warrants, to sweep event areas for possible explosives or, such as with the armored vehicles, to “provide cover and concealment.” The agency flew drones for several reasons, including searching for missing persons, providing “aerial overwatch,” mapping scenes of fatal car crashes and photographing crime scenes, to name a few.

The agency currently has 101 drones and 11 robots, according to its inventory. They also maintain an armory of several hundred rifles, including some designed for long-range accuracy, as well as less-lethal launchers and ammunition like oleoresin capsicum (OC) canisters, smoke canisters, rubber balls and smoke. They also have three long-range acoustic devices (LRADs).

The sheriff’s office previously had two .50-caliber Browning machine guns, “but they were properly destroyed” in July, according to the report.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at the Castro Valley Library at 3600 Norbridge Ave. in Castro Valley. Those who prefer not to attend in person can watch live via video stream. The sheriff’s office asked anyone who wished to submit a question in advance to send it by email.

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Alex N. Gecan joined Berkeleyside in 2023 as a senior reporter covering public safety. He has covered criminal justice, courts and breaking and local news for The Middletown Press, Stamford Advocate and...