Virginia Takes Steps to Demilitarize Police
Virginia’s General Assembly has taken a step toward demilitarizing local police departments. The House and Senate have passed competing measures that would prevent local law enforcement from obtaining and deploying certain types of military hardware on local streets.
According to the Tenth Amendment Center’s Mike Maharrey, the House of Delegates bill would ban:
(i) tracked armored vehicles
(ii) weaponized aircraft, vessels, and vehicles of any kind
(iii) firearms of .50-caliber or higher
(iv) ammunition of .50-caliber or higher
(v) grenade launchers
Maharrey notes the federal government’s 1033 program has allowed hundreds of millions of dollars of combat-ready material to flow from government warehouses to local police – with little to show for it except for an increasingly militarized police force:
Through the federal 1033 Program, local police departments procure military-grade weapons. Police can also get military equipment through the Department of Homeland Security via the (DHS) “Homeland Security Grant Program.” The DHS doles out over $1 billion in counterterrorism funds to state and local police each year. According to a 2012 Senate report, this money has been used to purchase tactical vehicles, drones, and even tanks with little obvious benefit to public safety. And, according to ProPublica, “In 1994, the Justice Department and the Pentagon-funded a five-year program to adapt military security and surveillance technology for local police departments that they would otherwise not be able to afford.”
In August 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that gave a push to local police militarization. Trump’s action rescinded an Obama-era policy meant to provide greater transparency and oversight around the Department of Defense 1033 program and other federal resources that provide military weapons to local police.
The Virginia House and Senate will need to work out the differences in their bills over the coming days.
Image Credit: By Jamelle Bouie [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons