Despite growing awareness and even public outrage in the wake of unrest in Ferguson, the federal government continues to equip state and local police departments with military weapons.
According to a new report by Open the Books, the feds transferred $2.2 billion worth of military gear to state and local agencies through Federal Program 1033 from 2006 and 2015. Report author Adam Andrzejewski described it as a “federally-sponsored ‘gun show’ that never ends.”
The 1033 program transfers surplus military weapons and equipment to state and local agencies at no cost. The receiving agency then must foot the bill for its upkeep.
Not only do police departments get war weapons from the feds, park districts, forest preserves, junior colleges, universities, natural resource departments and public safety agencies also score surplus military equipment from this federal program.
Military grade weapons transferred to local police include tens of thousands of M16/M14 rifles, helicopters, armored vehicles, night vision gear, sniper scopes, mine detection gear, grenade launchers and more than 5,000 bayonets. In Illinois, the Department of Natural Resources received 174 M16 and M14 rifles. That seems like a lot of firepower to enforce hunting laws.
The amount of military equipment obtained by local cops has steadily increased over the last decade. In 2006, the feds transferred a total of 32,555 items to state and local cops. In 2015, the total came in at 540,176.
Florida ranks as the number one state for militarized police. Since 2006, cops in the Sunshine State have acquired $304,009,144.27 worth of military weaponry. Texas, California, Tennessee and Arizona round out the top-five.
The $2,2 billion reported by Open the Books doesn’t include military gear acquired by state and local law enforcement through Depart of Defense grants and other federal funding sources. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) runs the “Homeland Security Grant Program,” which in 2013 gave more than $900 million in counterterrorism funds to state and local police. 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. 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.”
“Arming ‘peace officers’ like they’re ready to occupy an enemy city is totally contrary to the society envisioned by the Founders,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said. “They’ve turned ‘protect and serve’ into ‘command and control.’”
In the 1980s, the federal government began arming, funding and training local police forces, turning peace officers into soldiers to fight in its unconstitutional “War on Drugs.” The militarization went into hyper-drive after 9/11 when a second front opened up – the “War on Terror.”
Public outrage at the sight of military vehicles rolling through the streets of Ferguson, and officers pointing automatic weapons at unarmed protestors, sparked outrage and focused attention on the militarization of police. But it clearly hasn’t stemmed the flow of weapons into local police departments. As long as local cops can get their hands on this kind of weaponry, they will. The only way to stop it is for states to prohibit their law enforcement agencies from participating in this arms race.
New Jersey took the first step last year, passing a law banning local law enforcement agencies from obtaining this equipment without first getting approval from their local government. In the vast majority of cases, these military transfers happen directly between the feds and local police, as if they make up part of the same government. It often happens in complete secrecy. The New Jersey law interposes the local government in the process, giving the people of New Jersey the power to end it, and at the least, forcing the process into the open.
The second step is to pass an outright ban on police departments obtaining certain types of gear. A Montana law that went into effect last fall prohibits state or local law enforcement agencies from receiving armored drones, weaponized, or both; aircraft that are combat configured or combat coded; grenades or similar explosives and grenade launchers; silencers; and “militarized armored vehicles” from federal military surplus programs.
For more information on how to combat militarization of your local police, click HERE.