From major metropolises to small towns, America’s police forces increasingly resemble military units, thanks in part to billions of dollars in free equipment from the Pentagon.
The giveaways to date are valued at $4.2 billion, which the Department of Defense began distributing after Congress adopted legislation in 1997 authorizing the little-known 1033 Program. It appeared in fine print buried inside the National Defense Authorization Act (pdf).
In 2012 alone, the Pentagon gave away a record $546 million in surplus military hardware to municipal law enforcement agencies.
The program’s expansion in recent years has been attributed to sequestration budget cuts, post-9/11 fears, and excess equipment after winding down two wars.
Police have received not only assault rifles and grenade launchers for use by SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams, but also armored vehicles and even tanks. Many of the weapon donations far exceed law enforcement needs in towns with relatively small populations.
In South Carolina, the sheriff of Richland County acquired a tank (dubbed “the Peacemaker) with 360-degree rotating machine gun turrets.
In Jefferson County in upstate New York, the sheriff’s department guarding a community of about 120,000 people now has a 20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle, which was developed for the U.S. military to survive roadside bomb attacks. It was given to the county sheriff by the Pentagon.
The billion-dollar donations don’t include the $34 billion in “terrorism grants” that the Department of Homeland Security has handed out to local polices forces to arm themselves with high-powered weaponry.
Some of this military equipment has been on display by police during the recent Boston post-bombing lockdown and operations against Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.
In 2012, scandal disrupted the program when an investigation conducted by the Arizona Republic found that the Pinal County Sheriff's Department had not maintained control of the military weaponry it had acquired from the Pentagon. Evidence surfaced that the Sheriff’s office had given some of the equipment to non-police agencies and was planning to sell other military gear at auction.
The Pentagon responded by temporarily shutting down the program and requesting that all law enforcement agencies that had received donations provide an accounting of their holdings.
The 1033 program has no oversight and has never been audited, according to several media reports.
-Danny Biederman, Noel BrinkerhoffTo Learn More:
America's Police are Looking More and More Like the Military (by Michael Shank and Elizabeth Beavers, The Guardian)
Little Restraint In Military Giveaways (by Michael Kunzelman, Associated Press)
Pinal County Policies Spur Pentagon to Order Military-Gear Crackdown (by Dennis Wagner, Arizona Republic)
U.S. Dumps Excess Equipment on Police Departments that Don’t Need It (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
The Militarization of Your Local Police (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
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