The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office (SBSO) delivered an update on its current inventory and annual use of military equipment at an April 25 virtual meeting with the community.
The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office maintains a sizable stock of military equipment available for use, including unmanned aerial drones, bomb robots and armored vehicles, long range precision rifles, explosives and chemical agents.
California Assembly Bill 481 requires law enforcement agencies to obtain approval from their governing bodies before purchasing or acquiring military equipment. Signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Sept. 30, 2021, the law took effect Jan. 1, 2022.
SBSO plans to present to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on May 2 to approve the continued use of military equipment. The AB 481 annual report, inventory and policy for 2022 are all publicly available on the SBSO website under “Other Policies and Procedures.”
In 2022, SBSO utilized its unmanned aerial systems, deploying the Brinc Lemur drone once and the DJI Matrice drone for 10 hours during search and rescue operations. The Brinc Lemur drone — purchased with privately donated funds — is “designed to aid special response teams in barricade, hostage, active shooter and other high-risk situations,” the annual inventory document read.
“You will see the equipment being used for preservation of human life, search and rescue operations, natural disaster response, rapid response to catastrophic events, incidents to reduce the likelihood of injury to the public,” Lieutenant Joseph Schmidt said at the meeting.
Bomb squad personnel used the Remotec bomb robot for one operation in the past year, while the agency’s three tactical robots went unused.
SBSO owns three armored vehicles: one Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) — designed to seat 10 officers, withstand multiple bullet strikes and offer advanced off-road and high-water capabilities — and two Lenco BearCats. The vehicles were extensively used during the 2018 Montecito debris flow in disaster responses and evacuation measures. The BearCats were used on five operations this year, and there were no operational uses of the MRAP.
“We do have a lot of capabilities that aren’t always used on a regular basis, but the reason we keep those capabilities available is in the rare circumstances that a threat level justifies their use,” Sergeant Tyler Yeates said at the meeting.
The emergency command post trailer — a large mobile workstation allowing staff to manage critical incidents such as a natural disaster — was parked at the Earl Warren Showgrounds during the January 2023 storms.
Other military equipment used in the past year include a command vehicle on five operations, the crisis negotiation team vehicle on six operations and an explosive breaching device on one operation.
SBSO also reported deploying its 40 mm launcher on three separate “use of force” incidents, a PepperBall launcher eight times and a “less lethal shotgun” in one incident. SBSO used a distraction device — informally known as a flash bang or sting ball — on two operations.
Schmidt justified the use of the military equipment in the meeting as a “critical” measure to ensure public safety.
“The specialized equipment is necessary because there’s no reasonable alternative that can achieve the same objective of officer and civilian safety,” Schmidt said at the meeting. “Law enforcement equipment use policy will safeguard the public’s welfare, civil rights and civil liberties, and relative to other equipment out there, this equipment is reasonably cost effective.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the April 27, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
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