While the issue of police militarization has become more and more pressing a public policy matter since 9/11, in the wake of billions of dollars in federal funding to state and local cops, it’s not actually a new problem. The New York Times put together a pretty excellent video documentary on the history of this transformation.
DOJ censure local police departments, yet still give them military grade weapons:
A Pentagon program that distributes military surplus gear to local law enforcement allows even departments that the Justice Department has censured for civil rights violations to apply for and get lethal weaponry.
That lack of communication between two Cabinet agencies adds to questions about a program under review in the aftermath of the militarized police response to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.
The Pentagon, which provides the free surplus military equipment, says its consultation with the DOJ will be looked at as the government reviews how to prevent high-powered weaponry from flowing to the untrustworthy.
It’s hard to determine exactly how much tactical equipment was received by a single police department because the federal government releases only aggregate totals by county.
The Defense Department views the program, which has handed out more than $5.1 billion in military property since it started, primarily as a way to get rid of equipment it no longer needs. Equipment, much of it nontactical gear such as sleeping bags and filing cabinets, is provided first-come, first-served.
The DOJ has opened civil rights investigations into the practices of some 20 police departments in the past five years, with the Ferguson force the latest. The investigations sometimes end in negotiated settlements known as consent decrees that mandate reforms. Yet being flagged as problematic by Washington does not bar a police department from participating in the program.
“Given the fact that they’re under a consent decree it would make sense that the Department of Defense and Department of Justice coordinate on any such requests, but that is currently not the state,” said Jim Bueermann, who heads the nonprofit Police Foundation.
But to Peter Bibring, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, it should not get to that point.