Bay Area police defend use of military-style equipment

SAN LEANDRO, Calif. (KGO) -- President Barack Obama wants to limit military-style equipment used by police departments across the nation. This comes in response to the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Here in the Bay Area, several departments are justifying their use of military equipment.

After much debate, the city of San Leandro ordered a medevac bearcat to help rescue injured officers or civilians. It'll be in place early next year thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

"It offers ballistic protection from 308 caliber high powered rifles which will protect a police officer's ballistic vest," said Robert McManus with San Leandro police.

But on Monday, Obama said officers should take on the role of guardians, not warriors.

The president is mandating that some equipment be prohibited and others restricted like wheeled armored vehicles, pyrotechnics, battering rams, and riot gear.

"We've seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people the feeling like there is an occupying force as opposed to a force that's part of the community that's protecting them and serving them," Obama said.

On Jan. 1, police in South San Francisco used their armored personnel carrier to search for a suspect who had fired earlier at officers. Police justify the department's use of military-style equipment.

"It's all about safety," said Lt. Scott Campbell. "Would you rather see a vehicle like this driving down the street or would you rather be on the news dealing with an officer or citizen who's been critically wounded?"

Since Sept. 11, police departments have beefed up their military-style equipment through a grant program offered by Homeland Security. But cities like San Jose and Berkeley have said no to any armored vehicles.

On Monday, ABC7 News showed Berkeley resident Celik Kayalar a picture of South San Francisco's armored vehicle.

When asked what his opinion was of the vehicle, Kayalar said, "Oh this is for military enemies and the war zone."

The president's directive is part of an effort to build trust in communities of color.
Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.