Acquiring an Armored Vehicle – Oakland City Council


May 21, 2019 @ 6:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Oakland City Hall
500 14th St.


Item 12 (Acquisition of Bearcat armored vehicle)

The Josh Pawlik killing in March 2018 is a key event conditioning responses to this request to approve the acquisition of a second Bearcat. In that event, OPD deployed its existing Bearcat, as well as officers armed with AR-15 assault rifles. Compliance Director Robert Warshaw and the Executive Force Review Board pointed out that “officers did not use the armored vehicle as cover. They utilized it as a shooting platform.” (see attached, p. 2) The killing was wholly preventable. Yet OPD’s review of the event made no reference to the Bearcat deployment rules included in Chief Kirkpatrick’s supplemental report – which had been re-distributed to OPD commanders only 11 days before the killing of Mr. Pawlik.

  • The Department has no use policy for the Bearcat or other armored vehicles, only “rules for deployment,” and even those apply only to the Tactical Operations Team, not other officers who use the Bearcat.
  • The deployment rules state that neither the Bearcat nor Armored Suburban will “be deployed for incidents that do not involve actual, threatened, or suspected violence, related to loss of life or serious bodily injury, or crowd control situations unless articulable facts dictate the need to deploy the equipment.” Yet the report says that “The Bearcat is frequently deployed to planned events to deter attacks or respond to attacks if they do occur.” This interpretation of “articulable facts [that] dictate the need to deploy” the Bearcat renders the rules for deployment wholly meaningless.
  • The reasons given for deployment and rationale for obtaining a second Bearcat also broaden the permitted uses outlined in the rules for deployment. These include blocking in vehicles to prevent drivers pursued by police from fleeing.
  • Studies indicate that police departments in the United States that acquire military-grade equipment are more likely to use violence and are no more successful in reducing crime than those that acquire less such equipment.

Questions raised or that remain unanswered by the supplemental report:

  • How many deployments of the Bearcat in each of recent years were to events other than critical incidents of “actual, threatened or suspected violence”?
  • What impact does frequent deployment of the Bearcat have on relations between OPD and community members? The supplemental report says OPD receives positive comments when it is deployed to special events, but this clearly does not reflect community members who feel intimidated and scared of OPD or do not voice their concerns directly to OPD.
  • By what date will Chief Kirkpatrick commit to the incorporation of deployment rules for the Bearcat and Armored Surburban into policy for both a) tactical teams and b) other officers?
  • How are deployments of the Bearcat documented and evaluted? Who is responsible for such documentation and evaluation?
  • If the Bearcat is deployed or used in a manner that violates the rules for deployment, what process does the Department to discipline those responsible for this violation?
  • Did the OPD consider application of the state COPS grant for other expenditures, such as other cities have done – such as overtime or juvenile justice programs? If not, why not? If so, why did OPD conclude that the Bearcat was a higher priority for this application?

In light of the fatal misuse of OPD’s Bearcat in the killing of Josh Pawlik, the Council should not approve the acquisition of a second Bearcat, at the very least, until OPD has incorporated a use policy for the Bearcat, applicable to all members of OPD, that is considered and approved by the Police Commission.

Moreover, the Council and Police Commission should direct OPD to apply for other uses of the state COPS grant, more consistent with the community’s needs.

Other points: A Public Records Act request was file for records of OPD’s deployments of the Bearcat and other armored vehicles since the beginning of 2016, including reasons for deployment, demographics of those contacted during the deployments, and any harms documented. Their response was extended and is now due on June 1.

State legislation last year (AB 3131) would have required, for police departments’ acquisition from any source of all military-grade equipment, including Bearcats: use policies, reporting on use, and approval by city councils. The Senate and Assembly approved the bill, but it was vetoed by Governor Brown. Similar state legislation is expected to be re-introduced next year.


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