Just two months after a highly contentious City Council meeting about police policies for using a BearCat armored truck, President Barack Obama on May 18 announced new federal prohibitions on the transfer or purchase of “military-style” and “militarized” gear to police departments. Though the restrictions highlight certain weapons and “tracked armored vehicles,” they did not include the BearCat. Executive Order 13688, Obama’s response to nationwide protests against police killings and militarization, also requires “additional steps” to acquire gear on a controlled equipment list—which specifically includes breaching apparatuses such as battering rams. The Santa Cruz City Council approved Department of Homeland Security funds to purchase a battering ram that will attach to the front of the Santa Cruz Police Department’s $251,000 BearCat.
SCPD Lt. Bernie Escalante tells GT he had not heard about the new restrictions. “I’m not sure how President Obama controls what local law enforcement acquires. The only way he could control that is through the grant funding,” says Escalante.
Meanwhile, last week the Santa Cruz ACLU chapter created an online petition supporting community policing and opposing “acquisition or use by our police department of the BearCat or any other military-style vehicle or weapon.”
“Most important for us is recognizing the spirit of President Obama’s directive,” said Steve Pleich, Vice-Chair of the local ACLU chapter. “We still have an opportunity to halt and even reverse militarization of our local police force. That’s what the petition is all about. It’s an opportunity for a second look at the issue.”
The “Send Back The BearCat” petition at change.org has been signed by 100 people, and states, “The president’s action tells local governments and police everywhere that the American people—like the people of Santa Cruz—do not wish to see military-style vehicles rolling around their town, and that the national trend toward militarization of local law enforcement must be halted and reversed … We, the People, are not the enemy. Militarized equipment sends the message that we are. Send the BearCat back now!”