Demilitarizing the Police Gets a New House Push
A collection of congressional Democrats is pushing legislation that would end a controversial Pentagon program that allows the DoD to sell suplus military hardware to local police departments:
The bill and the letter are the latest effort in a push to curtail the Pentagon’s ability to transfer military-grade weapons to U.S. police departments through what’s known as the 1033 Program.
“Demilitarizing the police is a crucial step towards the broader goals of ending institutional racism and stopping police brutality,” said Yasmine Taeb, a human rights lawyer and progressive strategist who organized the letter. “Militarized policing supported by weapons of war has terrorized our communities, and in particular, our communities of color. We join millions of Americans across the country calling on Congress to shut down the 1033 program once and for all.”
Over the years, the 1033 program has provided billions of dollars of military surplus equipment to local police departments. But it’s far more than boots and fatigues. It includes heavy weapons and much more:
The transfers ramped up after 9/11. Between 2006 and 2014, law enforcement agencies amassed a collection of more than $1.5 billion of military equipment, including: 79,288 assault rifles, 205 grenade launchers, 11,959 bayonets, 3,972 combat knives, 422 helicopters, 479 bomb-detonator robots, more than 15,054 battle uniforms, and $39 million worth of electric wire. The ACLU also found that 500 departments had Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, built to deflect landmines and roadside bombs in Iraq. (School police departments are also eligible to receive military equipment; a San Diego school, for instance, received an 18-ton MRAP.)
Law enforcement was militarized, in part, to fight the war on drugs and later the war on terror. But along the way, it created huge incentives for departments to use the equipment for purposes well beyond those twin, forever-wars. It also encouraged criminal activity inside some departments.
As the Government Accountability Office noted in a 2017 oversight report, the program’s problems ran very deep:
…GAO created a fictitious federal agency to conduct independent testing of the LESO program’s internal controls and DLA’s transfer of controlled property to law enforcement agencies.
Through the testing, GAO gained access to the LESO program and obtained over 100 controlled items with an estimated value of $1.2 million, including night-vision goggles, simulated rifles, and simulated pipe bombs, which could be potentially lethal items if modified with commercially available items (see photos). GAO’s testing identified that DLA has deficiencies in the processes for verification and approval of federal law enforcement agency applications and in the transfer of controlled property, such as DLA personnel not routinely requesting and verifying identification of individuals picking up controlled property or verifying the quantity of approved items prior to transfer. Further, GAO found that DLA has not conducted a fraud risk assessment on the LESO program, including the application process.
Shut it down.