Council supports change of Weapons Station jurisdiction

Navy base would not need to call SBPD to enforce state law

File photo

The City Council this week supported a change in the jurisdiction of Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach. As a practical matter, it means the Navy can enforce the law without asking for help from the Seal Beach Police Department. The city will provide the Naval Weapons Station with a letter supporting the change.

NWS Commanding Officer/Capt. Jason Sherman requested the change in a March 26 letter addressed to Mayor Joe Kalmick. 

This was an item on the Consent Calendar. Consent items are voted on collectively, without discussion, unless pulled for separate consideration. 

This item was not pulled from Consent Calendar. However, there was a presentation from Lt. Josiah Houch of the Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

District Five Councilwoman Sandra Massa-Lavitt asked if this change increased the legal liability for the city in any way.

Lt. Houch said no.

“Currently, as is the case on many Navy bases, Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach is under proprietary jurisdiction,” wrote NWS Public Affairs Officer Gregg Smith in a June 25 email.  

“This means that SBPD has the sole authority to conduct law enforcement investigations and make arrests.  Navy security forces can detain individuals but must then turn them over to SBPD for processing,” Smith wrote. 

“By changing to concurrent jurisdiction, the base security force will have the ability to exercise authority over criminal offenses occurring onboard the base.  This will enhance our security operations while also reducing the burden on our SBPD partners.  The effort to change jurisdictional status is taking place on Navy bases throughout the United States,” Smith wrote.

A staff report to the council, prepared by SBPD Operations Capt. Michael Henderson, also said there was a Navy-wide effort to change all U.S. bases to concurrent jurisdiction.

“On March 26, 2021, the U.S. Navy sent a letter to the City of Seal Beach formally requesting a jurisdiction change at the Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach (NWS) to that of concurrent legislative jurisdiction,” according to Henderson’s report (which was submitted by Police Chief Phil Gonshak).

“The Navy requested that the City and State cede authority on the NWS which would permit federal, state, and/or local agency to respond to emergencies and to exercise jurisdiction over criminal offenses occurring at the NWS,” Henderson wrote.

“From the Navy’s perspective, this standardizes the jurisdiction questions and enhances the Navy’s ability to enforce federal law. allows federal prosecution of crimes on base and allows local entities to respond to military bases,” Henderson wrote.

“As a practical matter, very little will change for the City of Seal Beach and Seal Beach Police Department (SBPD) in terms of response and how calls for service are handled on the NWS. SBPD jurisdiction on the base remains intact and there will not be any loss in the ability of the SBPD to respond,” Henderson wrote.

Council supports change of Weapons Station jurisdiction