The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Congress would review how the Pentagon transfers surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies.
The statement from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) comes after criticism, including from Republican Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), that the SWAT reaction to the protests and rioting in Ferguson, Mo., resembled a police state more than a suburb.
“Congress established this program out of real concern that local law enforcement agencies were literally outgunned by drug criminals,” Levin said today. “We intended this equipment to keep police officers and their communities safe from heavily armed drug gangs and terrorist incidents.”
“Before the defense authorization bill comes to the Senate floor, we will review this program to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended,” he added.
At yesterday’s Pentagon briefing, press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby was asked whether the concern over increased militarization of domestic police forces would give the Defense Department pause about the oversight of the program or its future.
“There is a law enforcement support program that the Defense Department administers which provides to law enforcement agencies around the country surplus military equipment, gear, arms, ammunition, vehicles. This is a useful program that allows for the reuse of military equipment that otherwise would be disposed of that can be used, again, by law enforcement agencies to serve their citizens,” Kirby replied.
“So it’s a — so the program serves a purpose. That said, it is up to law enforcement agencies to speak to how and what they gain through this system. And I’m not going to inject the Pentagon into this discussion. How this equipment is used to serve local citizens, again, is up for local law enforcement agencies to speak to.”