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Read the ER reporting on the meeting below or go to: https://www.chicoer.com/2023/04/28/police-citizens-discuss-force/
Chico Enterprise Record Reports on Police Meeting
April 28, 2023 at 4:18 a.m.
CHICO — In spirited give and take that for the most part remained cordial even in disagreements, the Chico Police Department and community members engaged in discussion on law enforcement use of military equipment in a public hearing Thursday evening at City Council Chambers.
Chico PD held the meeting per a state law, Assembly Bill 481, that defines military equipment and requires a yearly review by local jurisdictions.
Thirty Chicoans attended the two-hour session. Police Chief Billy Aldridge answered 25 of their questions after presenting the annual report. Tactical Sgt. Joel Schmid, Sgt. Todd Lefkowitz and Lt. Mike Rodden, the tactical commander, offered additional details.
Questions ranged from broad policies on policing and training to specifics on crowd control and drone use — the latter as immediate as Thursday Night Market outside, which officers monitored by drone.
The City Council approved Chico Police’s annual review of military equipment at its April 7 meeting. Two councilors (Deepika Tandon and Addison Winslow) asked their colleagues to wait until after the public hearing, but councilors ultimately gave their signoff with only Winslow dissenting. Aldridge pledged he’d return to council should the public hearing spur changes.
Aldridge provided an overview of AB 481 — the 2021 law requiring local governments to review military-grade equipment used by their law enforcement entities — and Chico PD’s inventory. The “military equipment” definition applies to an array of items, such as weapons of .50 caliber or greater, pepperball launchers, chemical-dispersal cannisters, drones, robots and armored vehicles.
Military-grade equipment represents .23% (less than a quarter-percent) of Chico Police’s annual budget of $32.5 million. By comparison, he said, Sacramento is at 18%.
Aldridge said Chico PD is not seeking additional equipment from the U.S. military, and is returning equipment acquired previously though the federal Law Enforcement Support Program. Pieces in the inventory are city-owned and “the most up-to-date equipment that’s reliable.”
He noted that the department has converted shotguns into less-lethal firearms that shoot bean bags instead of bullets — every patrol car has at least one such “de-escalation” armament — and the munitions count includes ammunition required for state-mandated training.
“Everything we have is the minimum we need to make this community safe,” Aldridge concluded. “I think it’s important we keep everything we have. I challenge you to find anything we have that’s outside the norm of law enforcement agencies.
“I think we’ve done a good job of not overmilitarizing your police department.”
Differences of opinion arose during the Q&A, in which Aldridge responded to submissions on comment cards and fielded questions from the audience.
When asked about the distinction between military action and law enforcement, Aldridge drew on his Air Force service and police career. Margaret Swick of the advocacy group Concerned Citizens for Justice pointed to a distinction: “The military focus on the enemy. You focus on your fellow citizens.”
Marty Dunlap, Anne Polivka and Diane Suzuki of CC4J sought clarification on multiple points, including why “good policing” requires military equipment. Aldridge reiterated a point from his presentation that the classification of many such items may be semantic.
“Most of the equipment, you can buy,” he said, as opposed to “real military equipment” he used in the Air Force.
CC4J’s George Gold offered Aldridge a compliment for incorporating de-escalation into the policy but spoke to an incongruity between using force and calming measures.
“A threat is not a de-escalation,” he said.
Gold also asked when Chico PD would get civilian oversight. Aldridge responded that Chico PD is not under federal review for violating rights, requiring such oversight, and said he’s creating an advisory board inclusive of community members with different perspectives. “I’m the first one to say we’re not perfect,” the chief added. “We try every day to get a little bit better.”
Chico police Sgt. Joel Schmid stands in the back of City Council Chambers during the Assembly Bill 481 public hearing Thursday, April 27, 2023, in Chico, California. (Evan Tuchinsky/Enterprise-Record