A Republican and a Democrat have joined forces in the House to reform the controversial program that gives surplus Defense Department equipment to local police departments.
More than 8,000 federal and state law enforcement agencies actively participate in the program, the DoD told a Senate hearing last week, in 49 states and three U.S. territories. Among the “controlled property” distributed to law enforcement over the past 12 months are more than 92,000 small arms, 44,000 night-vision devices, 52,000 Humvees, and 617 MRAPs.
On Tuesday, Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) introduced the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.
The bill aims to “prevent transfers of equipment inappropriate for local policing, such as high-caliber weapons, long-range acoustic devices, grenade launchers, armed drones, armored vehicles, and grenades or similar explosives.”
It ends a provision in the program requiring that departments are supposed to use the military equipment within a year, postulating that this creates an incentive where police use the equipment in inappropriate circumstances.
It also requires that departments can account for all equipment granted by the federal government, noting that in 2012 a sheriff was busted for re-gifting his Humvees and other military equipment.
“Militarizing America’s main streets won’t make us any safer, just more fearful and more reticent,” Johnson said in a statement. “Before another small town’s police force gets a $750,000 gift from the Defense Department that it can’t maintain or manage, it behooves us to press pause on Pentagon’s 1033 program and revisit the merits of a militarized America.”
The issue of police militarization heated up as a result of the protests in Ferguson, Mo., over the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“Our nation was founded on the principle of a clear line between the military and civilian policing,” said Labrador. “The Pentagon’s current surplus property program blurs that line by introducing a military model of overwhelming force in our cities and towns. Our bill would restore the focus of local law enforcement on protecting citizens and providing due process for the accused.”