Petaluma police receive more than $1.3 million in military surplus equipment over past decade

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- More than $11 million of military equipment ordered from the federal government in the past decade is now in the hands of officers and deputies across the Bay Area, according to an ABC7 I-Team analysis.



Petaluma Police Department, a city with a population of around 62,000 people, has received the most expensive equipment since 2010. The North Bay tourist destination is known for its stunning views and low-crime rate - yet the charming town is the smallest Bay Area city armed with the most military equipment in recent years.

"I don't embarrass easily, but it's not what I'd like to see," said Teresa Barrett, the city's mayor. "I'm not happy there is any type of military equipment in our community."

According to the Department of Defense, the Petaluma Police Department received an Armored Rescue Vehicle or ARV in 2014. The SWAT vehicle is sometimes referred as a 'counter attack truck.'

Sierra: "Why would a city like Petaluma need a military vehicle like that?"
Barrett: "I don't have justification for it. I don't think we need a vehicle like that, and I would not have supported it had we've been asked to pay for it."

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The ARV is one of two tactical military vehicles Petaluma Police have acquired in recent years. While the ARV is worth $750,000, it was no cost to Petaluma Police through the Department of Defense's 1033 program. The federal program allows law enforcement agencies to apply for military surplus equipment that would otherwise be thrown away.

Petaluma Police Chief Ken Savano argues ARV's are designed to protect law enforcement from armed and dangerous suspects.

Stephanie: "How many times has it been used?"
Mayor Barrett: "It has only been used four times in our community."



Petaluma police ranks first in the Bay Area for receiving the most expensive military equipment in the past 10 years. Equipment the department didn't pay for but is worth more than $1.3 million.

Antioch police ranks second. The department raking in more than $1 million worth of equipment. Everything from a single-order of 13 rifles to a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle - better known as an MRAP.

These vehicles are built for war zones, equipped to survive an IED attack. Yet, 8 police departments across the Bay Area have ordered them. Including, two suburban cities like South San Francisco and Redwood City where there are conflicting arguments on whether to keep them.

"It was said over and over... please the tank is such a poor representation of our community and the chief totally agrees," said Diane Howard, the mayor of Redwood City.

Howard speaking on behalf of Redwood City Police Chief Dan Mulholland said their department wants to focus on community policing.

"He's returning the vehicle back to the federal government," Mayor Howard said. "He would be happy to not have in Redwood City."

But, both the mayor and police chief in South San Francisco feel just the opposite.

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"I have no problem with the vehicle," said Richard Garbarino, the mayor of South San Francisco. "I think the value that presents itself far outweighs any other considerations that it's an armored vehicle... it has the potential to save lives."

Garbarino said the tactical vehicles are crucial to respond to natural disasters, specifically flooding. According to South San Francisco Police, the MRAP has cost $3,000 in regular maintenance fees since the department acquired it in 2013.

"Yes, I understand the image it presents, but I'll take that against the loss of life any day," he said.

South San Francisco Corporal Matt O'Connor also spoke with ABC7 off-camera. Cpl. O'Connor reiterated MRAPs were crucial for their department to safely respond to armed suspects, criminal barricade situations, active shooters, and threats.

"It allows us to be closer to dangerous situations faster than we ever have been able to before," said Corporal O'Connor.

The 1033 program first became scrutinized after the shooting death of Michael Brown. Now, following George Floyd's death, the conversation around militarized police is even more controversial.

The House Armed Services Committee will be considering an amendment this week to cancel the program.

Petaluma Police Chief Ken Savano released this statement on the city's website explaining the value MRAPs bring to the police force:

"We acknowledge that our department does have a military surplus armored rescue vehicle, but we want to provide the community with some background about why we have that tool and what are it's purposes. Our armored rescue vehicle (ARV) is a specific tool designed to protect law enforcement from armed and dangerous suspects. The ARV is used by our tactical team and at times by patrol in situations where a there has been or may be a violent confrontation or a shooting, hostage situations resulting in trapped or injured victims/officers, or where the suspect(s) is armed and dangerous. In these situations, it is not safe for our officer(s) to attempt rescues or evacuations with standard patrol car as the ballistic protection of the patrol car is not sufficient to keep the officer safe from gunfire."

Take a look at more stories by the ABC7 News I-Team.

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