Hearings On The Militarization Of Police Are Coming

Matt Vespa

8/26/2014 8:15:00 AM - Matt Vespa

While the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri has somewhat subsided, it’s nice to see that there’s a bipartisan consensus to review the militarization of police. It’s a controversial trend whose first vestiges were seen in the 1980s with the War on Drugs. After the 1033 program was established in the 1990s, which allowed the Department of Defense to give local law enforcement excess military equipment; the trend was accelerated.

In the post-9/11 era, the Department of Homeland Security has injected steroids into police militarization by issuing billions in terrorism grants. Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said hearings would be held on the subject (via Roll Call):

The Missouri Democrat, chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, plans to take a broad look at programs like the Defense Department’s 1033 program that have steered surplus equipment to local police departments.

That DOD program has come under particular scrutiny from other lawmakers.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, last week said he would review the program, which is part of the defense authorization bill, before it gets to the Senate floor “to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended.”

McCaskill “plans to gather stakeholders from all sides in order to hear several perspectives, including those of local law enforcement,” the release said. “Details of McCaskill’s hearing will be available in the coming days.”

Additionally, President Obama wants a review of the role the federal government has in transferring military equipment to local law enforcement, according to Fox News:

President Obama has directed a review of federal programs and funding that allow state and local law-enforcement agencies to acquire surplus military equipment, a senior administration official said Saturday.

The review will include whether the programs are appropriate, if the agencies are getting enough training and guidance to use the equipment and whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of the equipment.

The president hinted Monday that a review was likely in the aftermath of an unarmed Ferguson, Mo., teen being fatally shot by a police officer, which was followed by local law enforcement using military equipment to try to control the ensuing protests and riots.

“I think it's probably useful for us to review how the funding has gone, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars, to make sure that what they’re purchasing is stuff that they actually need, because there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don't want those lines blurred,” Obama said. “And I think that there will be some bipartisan interest in reexamining some of those programs.”

Conn wrote a good piece about some of the equipment police have acquired through these programs. Additionally, in an investigation conducted by the Associated Press last summer, Michael Kunzelman noted that a disproportionate amount of 1033 equipment was going to parts of the country–usually rural– with little crime and few officers. He also cited the “scant” oversight regarding this program. The report by the American Civil Liberties Union also noted the lack of oversight with the militarization of our police.

This is a legitimate debate. As conservatives, we support the rule of law and want police to have all the necessary tools in order to protect the public and nab criminals. But, there’s also a question about tactics, the use of force, and how special weapons and tactics (SWAT) teams are being used. We’re experience a 50-year low in violent crime, a 39% reduction in gun-related homicides between 1993-2011 alone. So, why have SWAT raids increased astronomically from an average of 3,000 per year in the 1980s to 45,000 by the mid-2000s?

Is deploying a SWAT team necessary to break up poker games, or serve warrants for non-violent offenses, like credit card fraud and underage drinking? In most cases, SWAT teams are used when there isn’t a situation that justified their deployment, like a hostage situation or an active shooter on the loose.

That’s not supporting the rule of law; that’s the state running amok.