Should your police have military equipment?

More than 8,000 local police forces, including at least 117 college police agencies, have received more than $5 billion in military equipment from the federal government under the “1033 Program.” This obscure anti-terrorism program was thrust into the news when police in Ferguson, Missouri were faced with protests against the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a local officer. As the New York Times explained:

Police officers in full body armor responded. A sniper rode a BearCat armored truck, paid for with $360,000 in federal money. They pointed assault rifles at unarmed protesters and fired tear gas into crowds.

“What we're witnessing is the militarization of policing, and it has become commonplace in towns across America,” wrote Kara Dansky of the ACLU. Local police now routinely have automatic weapons and heavily armored military vehicles. They have camouflage combat fatigues, flash-bang grenades and night-vision rifle scopes. At a recent U.S. Senate hearing, Alan F. Estevez, the principal deputy undersecretary for acquisition for the Defense Department said:

Bayonets are available under the [1033] program. I can’t answer what a local police force would need a bayonet for.

You can and should do something about this.

First, ask your own law enforcement agencies whether they own or have ordered any military equipment. If so, find out how much the storage and maintenance costs, what they do with the equipment, and whether there is a training program to make sure those military weapons and accessories are not misused.

Second, you can sponsor legislation to ban such weaponry or set up procedures to ensure proper oversight for the acquisition and possession of military equipment. New Jersey State Senator Nia Gill is introducing two bills to bring some accountability and transparency to the process.

Military equipment clearly did more harm than good in Ferguson. Does the use of this equipment make sense in your state, city or county?


Download Books