— Michael Clayton —
Yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the federal government will restart a program that gives surplus heavy-duty military equipment to local law enforcement.
The Department of Defense’s 1033 Program was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1997, but just two years ago President Obama downsized 1033 via executive order. This order prohibited the federal transfer of certain items such as “tracked armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers, camouflage uniforms, and large-caliber weapons and ammunition.”
Why on earth our local police departments need bayonets is beyond me, but the scarier thing to imagine is an armored vehicle strolling down your street to conduct a raid on your neighbor’s home. Is it really necessary? I mean, how often are they really going to need grenade launchers, armored vehicles, and high-caliber weapons to prevent local crime?
The NYPD, the largest municipal force in the country with over 40,000 officers, reported only 67 instances of where an officer discharged their firearm in 2015, and 30 of those were “unintentional” or a result of an “animal attack.” A firearm was discharged only 33 times in an “adversarial conflict.” And I don’t remember reading any stories where the police met an armed resistance that required heavy-duty military equipment to put down.
The truth is, thankfully a majority of police officers go their entire career without having to discharge their firearm, so why do they need heavy-duty military grade weapons?
Of course, Obama’s executive order was mostly just to save face in light of the events that were transpiring in Ferguson, Missouri in May of 2015. As Bonnie Kristian at Rare explains, “some of the banned items weren’t being given to police anyway, and plenty of military equipment was still fair game.”
So why is this announcement by AG Jeff Sessions a big deal? Because it is an announcement from our nation’s top law enforcement officer to our local police forces that it is okay for them to act more like a military body than a civilian body, and when that mindset takes hold, police officers start viewing regular citizens as the enemy and vice versa. As Bonnie Kristian goes on to articulate in her piece:
When we militarize police, we give them the equipment and foster the mindsets that make brutality more likely. We encourage cops to think of Americans as their enemy to be controlled rather than their neighbors to be served.
Contra the White House, bayonets and grenades and tanks will not and cannot ‘protect public safety and reduce crime,’ because they are not tools of effective, peaceful, civilian policing. They are tools of war.
Having a bayonet does not encourage de-escalation. Having a grenade does not encourage levelheaded problem-solving. Having a tank does not encourage police to see the public as peers whose lives and rights are as valuable as their own.
Advocates of the 1033 program claim they are trying to save taxpayers money by not wasting old military equipment. Perhaps the Pentagon should practice more efficient means of equipment acquisition, or Congress would step up and cut military spending, so our military doesn’t have so much excess. As Senator Rand Paul points out, nearly one-third of this “surplus” equipment is brand new.
Senator Paul went on:
What kind of equipment are we talking about? Well, Haverhill, Mass., a town of fewer than 65,000, got a nearly 20-ton Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle. Keene, NH, a town of fewer than 30,000, got an 8-ton armored BearCat. Over 10,000 bayonets have been handed out. Yes, bayonets.
Police work is unquestionably difficult — and often thankless. I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for those who put it all on the line to protect our communities, and I saw their bravery firsthand this summer when Capitol Police officers made all the difference during the attack on our congressional baseball game practice.
To support our local police, we must first realize they aren’t soldiers. But today the line between the two is being eroded.
The good Senator from Kentucky is absolutely correct, local police officers aren’t soldiers, they’re civilians. They are meant to protect and serve their communities, not threaten and intimidate. The police shouldn’t view the American public as the enemy, and the American public shouldn’t view the police as the enemy. But as long as we continue to militarize local police departments, the understanding gap between both groups will continue to deteriorate.
America’s Liberty PAC supports Senator Rand Paul and his reintroduction of the “Stop Militarizing Our Law Enforcement Act,” which “prohibits the federal transfer of militarized equipment to state and local law enforcement.” The legislation would only prohibit “offensive equipment and not defensive equipment, such as body armor.”