Government, politics, Salem

House passes bill to restrict some military surplus use by law enforcement agencies

The Oregon Capitol building in Salem. Photo: Chas Hundley

The Oregon House of Representatives passed a bill prohibiting law enforcement agencies from receiving certain types of U.S. military surplus equipment from the federal government, including armored drones, grenades, and firearms silencers, among other types of gear.

Nine House representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties voted against the bill (see below for the list of nay-voters). 

House Bill 2481, co-sponsored by Rep. Karin Power (D-Milwaukie) and Rep. Julie Fahey (D-West Eugene/Junction City), comes in response to a tumultuous year of protests against police brutality, which has disproportionately affected minority communities and people of color, a House Democrats news release said.

HB 2481 also requires law enforcement agencies throughout Oregon that already receive surplus military equipment to receive permission from corresponding municipal and county governments, and state agencies, to continue doing so, and to provide notification of their intentions to receive such equipment and to use only state or local funds purely for procurement. 

“Militarized law enforcement is extraneous to public safety,” Power said. “This is a step towards creating a safer environment not only for protestors exercising their first amendment (rights) but for the wellbeing of our communities.”

The news release also emphasized how HB 2481 would increase operational transparency by obligating law enforcement to make public record any and all attempts to obtain surplus military equipment. 

“The types of military equipment this bill addresses do not decrease or deter crime,” Rep. Fahey said. “Additionally, research has shown that police militarization contributes to feelings of alienation of police from the communities they are serving with no detectable benefits in terms of officer safety.”

Sgt. Danny DiPietro, community relations officer for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, said that through the military the department received many surplus items over the years, including:

— Rifle scopes that have since been returned. 

— Two defibrillators that also have been returned. 

— Ceremonial rifles used by the Washington County Sheriff’s Honor Guard for presentations, events, et al. 

— Small robots, which were transferred to another agency.

— An unarmored Humvee vehicle used for for protecting staff and community members during active shooter and barricaded subject incidents.

The surplus equipment comes from Fort Belvoir, Vir.-based Defense Logistics Agency. 

DiPietro said the Washington County Sheriffs don’t actually purchase the equipment, and the Sgt. would not confirm whether or not the equipped is leased or loaned from the U.S. military. 

Additionally, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office pays a $2,000 fee to access the Defense Logistics Agency program. The cost for each agency is based on its relative size. To view the Defense Logistics Agency website, where law enforcement obtains surplus military gear, go online to Dia.Mil.

The bill now moves on to the Senate having passed the House with bipartisan support. Nine representatives voted against the bill — Rep. Vikki Breese Iverson (R-Prineville), Rep. Paul Evans (D-Monmouth), Rep. Paul Holvey (D-Eugene), Rep. Mark Owens (R-Crane), Rep. Bill Post (R-Keizer), Rep. E. Werner Reschke (R-Klamath Falls), Rep. David Brock Smith (R-Port Orford), Rep. Duane Stark (R-Grants Pass), and Rep. Boomer Wright (R-Coos Bay). 

None of the nay voters returned repeated phone calls requesting comment for this story.

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