Congress Questions Use of Military Gear by Local Police Departments

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Lawmakers said Tuesday they were considering doing more to monitor and hold accountable police departments across the United States that obtain sophisticated military equipment from the federal government.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., led a Congressional hearing about military equipment given to local law-enforcement departments by the federal government, at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill Sept. 9, 2014. She intensely questioned the validity and transparency of the transfer and grant programs that bring Pentagon weapons and other gear to local police. She was critical of the police reaction in Ferguson, Missouri, after an unarmed black 18-year-old, Michael Brown, was shot to death by a white police officer. She also questioned how so much military equipment — described as new or almost new — is being given away. “Why are we buying things only to give them away?” McCaskill said.

Confronting protestors with armored personnel carriers is thoroughly un-American, and for 150 years we’ve had rules separating the military — keeping the military out of policing affairs. But you sort of obscure that separation if you allow the police to become the military.

— Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky

Sen. Paul Rand declared that 12,000 bayonets were given out through the 1033 program, according to a report by National Public Radio.

The police response in Ferguson has intensified a national conversation that was already in progress about the type of equipment and training local police officers receive. The 1033 program approved by Congress in the 1990s to fight the war on drugs, has allowed the Pentagon to give surplus equipment to local police departments free of charge. Federal agencies, such as the Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice departments, give grants to local police forces to buy equipment. Those grants are, on the whole, given without any request for accountability. Some police departments have revealed that some of the equipment ended up missing.

According to the program’s official website (Defense Logistics Agency), the 1033 Program has transferred $5.1 billion in military hardware from the United States Army to local American law enforcement agencies since 1997.


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