SWAT officers near the courthouse in Long Beach Thursday, July 11, 2019. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.
SWAT officers in a BearCat near the courthouse in Long Beach Thursday, July 11, 2019. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The City Council voted Tuesday to give the public more time to study the Long Beach Police Department’s new policy on using equipment that was originally designed for the military, saying residents needed more time to review the inventory of weapons.

Council members had been scheduled to approve the policy, which is required under a new California law,  but City Attorney Charles Parkin said during the council meeting that the LBPD recently added an item to the inventory, which the department first released back in May.

On June 29, the LBPD added the Strongwatch Mobile Video Surveillance system, also called “Freedom On-The-Move,” which is basically a sophisticated camera mounted in the bed of a GMC Sierra pickup truck.

The system is capable of live-streaming video to a command center so police can “monitor a situation in real time and coordinate responses to public safety threats,” according to the LBPD’s revised inventory. The surveillance system was reportedly used to monitor a Black Lives Matter Long Beach protest march in July 2020.

It’s not clear from either Parkin’s remarks at the City Council meeting or the revised inventory why the Strongwatch system wasn’t included in the original May inventory, and an LBPD spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

While the Long Beach Police Department has used military-grade equipment for years, council approval is now required by AB 481, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed in September 2021. The bill mandates every law enforcement agency in the state to make public an annual inventory of any and all equipment it uses that was originally designed for the military along with its policy for using the equipment. To continue using the equipment, those documents must now gain approval from the department’s governing body—in this case, the City Council.

The LBPD’s inventory shows the department already has—among other items—three armored trucks, several drones and robots, and 125 high-powered rifles meant to be used in various situations, such as confronting hostile suspects at a distance or allowing SWAT officers to fire sniper rounds from afar.

Two of the most powerful weapons listed in the LBPD inventory are a Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle—intended to be used to stop a moving vehicle when no other options are available—and two FN America M240B 7.62x51mm NATO rifles, which are “medium machine guns” primarily used by U.S. soldiers in battlefields like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the manufacturer.

The LBPD acquired the weapons to be used in especially dangerous and extreme events such as acts of terrorism, according to an LBPD spokesperson.

Just four SWAT officers are trained and certified to use the Barrett rifle and FN America guns, according to the LBPD. None of them have yet been used in action, according to the LBPD.

The inventory also includes a detailed accounting of “less-lethal rounds,” like 40-millimeter foam projectiles, that the LBPD used extensively during the 2020 protests following the murder of George Floyd. One journalist was hit in the neck by such a round and had to be treated at a hospital.

It’s unclear when the LBPD’s military weapons policy and inventory will return to the council for approval.

City Council to consider LBPD’s new military weapons policy

Anthony Pignataro is an investigative reporter and editor for the Long Beach Post. He has close to three decades of experience in journalism leading numerous investigations and long-form journalism projects for the OC Weekly and other publications. He joined the Post in May 2021.