Pentagon leaders are informally studying how surplus military equipment is distributed to police departments, though a Defense spokesman stressed that after it leaves their hands it’s up to law enforcement to use it as they wish.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “has not ordered a review of this program,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters this afternoon. “He’s simply asked for some more information so that he can have a more informed opinion about it.”
Hagel “has been mindful of the public debate and discussion” about police militarization in Ferguson, Mo.
“He has been given an information paper that provides some more detail to it, and he’s consuming that now,” Kirby said.
“It’s important to understand this is a program legislated by Congress which allows the secretary to transfer some excess military property to local law enforcement. This has been on the books since 1991,” he added. “And many, many law enforcement agencies have benefited from it. In fact, many citizens of many towns and cities all over the country have benefited from it. But it — but how, as I said before, how and where and under what circumstances the equipment actually gets used is up to the local law enforcement agencies to determine.”
Since 2007 the Defense Logistics Agency has transferred to the Ferguson police department two Humvees, one generator, and one cargo trailer, Kirby said. “In all of St. Louis County, over that same period of time, which includes Ferguson, six pistols, 12 rifles, 15 weapon sites, an EOD robot, three helicopters, seven Humvees, as I said, two of which are being used by Ferguson, and two night-vision devices. That’s what they got,” he said.
When asked if the Pentagon thinks Ferguson “misused” their equipment, Kirby stressed, “We don’t take a position on the way the equipment is being used.”
“That is up to local law enforcement to determine. I will tell you, though, that we have rigorous compliance and accountability standards, and biannually, the Defense Logistics Agency spot-checks many of these local law enforcement agencies in the states to make sure that they’re keeping proper accountability inventorying — keeping an inventory of the equipment. But we do not legislate, we don’t dictate, we don’t — we don’t mandate any kind of certain use. That is up to local law enforcement,” he said.
“And many of the equipment finds use in counterdrug and counterterrorism-type activities that, of course, get right to the protection of the homeland. So we’re not — the — as I said at the outset, how and when and where and under what circumstances the equipment gets used is up to local law enforcement agencies to speak to.”