Law-enforcement technologyDOD policy drives militarization of local police departments

Published 14 October 2013

The adoption of military gear by local police departments across America – some call it the “militarization” of American police – has been going on for a while. Now, observers ask whether this trend might have repercussion which should make citizens uneasy. Police department receive the equipment for free – all they have to do is pay for the shipping. The gear being sent to local police includes planes, helicopters, armored vehicles, grenade launchers, assault rifles, bullet-proof helmets, night-vision goggles, and more. A few sheriff departments ordered tanks.

The adoption of military gear by local police departments across America – some call it the “militarization” of American police – has been going on for a while. Now, observers ask whether this trend might have repercussion which should make citizens uneasy.

The Guardian reports that earlier this month, Jefferson County legislators in upstate New York approved acceptance  of a $600,000, 20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle which was donated to the county sheriff department by the Department of Defense (DOD).

DOD’s1033 Excess Property Program, part of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act allows the department to transfer surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies. Since the late 1990s, a total of $4.2 billion worth of military equipment has been distributed to local police forces. The program has expanded greatly after the 9/11 attacks in order to augment the counterterrorism efforts of local police forces. In fiscal year 2012 alone, a record $546 million worth of military property was transferred to local police departments.

The post-9/11 expansion of the 1033 Program has occurred in parallel to the Department of Homeland Security giving local police departments, during the same period, more than $34 billion in terrorism grants to purchase gear and equipment.

Critics say that this militarization of local police departments has a deleterious effect.

The Guardian notes that among the critics are current and former law enforcement officers. Thus, Norm Stamper, a retired Seattle police chief, told the Associated Press that the program is fueling a  troubling trend. “The harm for me is that it further militarizes American law enforcement,” Stamper said. “We make a serious mistake, I’m convinced, in equipping domestic law enforcement, particularly in smaller, rural communities, with this much military equipment.”

One reason for the worry is the ease with which police department can avail themselves of this surplus equipment. All local purchasing officers have to do to purchase planes, helicopters, armored vehicles, grenade launchers, assault rifles, bullet-proof helmets, night-vision goggles, and more is pick an item of a DOD list and  pay for shipment of the items.

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