Legislation unanimously passed in the New Jersey Assembly today represents an important first step towards blocking federal programs that militarize local police in the state.
Informally known as the 1033 Program, the Pentagon provides local law enforcement, at little or no upfront cost, surplus federal property, including aircraft, armored vehicles, automatic weapons, and night vision equipment originally intended for use by the United States Armed Forces without even obtaining approval of the local governing body.
Senate Bill 2364 (S2364), introduced by Sen. Nia Gill, flips this process around. It bans local law enforcement agencies from obtaining this equipment without first getting approval from the local government.
S2364 passed the Senate by a vote of 36-0 in December, and the Assembly concurred today by a vote of 70-0. The bill now goes to the Governor’s desk for a signature.
“This is significant,” said Mike Maharrey, national communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center. “Currently, these military transfers are happening directly between the feds and police, as if they’re part of the same government even though they’re not. This bill interposes the local government in the process, meaning there’s now a chance for people in New Jersey to end it.”
Almost 13,000 agencies in all 50 states and four U.S. territories participate in the military “recycling” program, and the share of equipment and weaponry gifted each year continues to expand. In 2011, $500 million worth of military equipment was distributed to law enforcement agencies throughout the country. That number jumped to $546 million in 2012.
Since 1990, $4.2 billion worth of equipment has been transferred from the Defense Department to domestic police agencies through the 1033 program, in addition to various other programs supposedly aimed at fighting the so-called War on Drugs and War on Terror.
According to the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, the Office of Emergency Management has assisted with the transfer of over $30 million in excess Department of Defense property to New Jersey law enforcement agencies since the beginning of federal fiscal year 2014.
As Maharrey noted, S2364 wouldn’t put an end to the militarization of New Jersey law enforcement, it creates a mechanism for local communities to stop the free-flowing tide of equipment that is militarizing local police there.
As things stand, local residents have no means of preventing these transfers. But a signature on S2364 by Gov. Christie would allow citizens to pressure their local councilmembers at a city or county level to vote against such acquisitions or face the consequences come the next election.
“That’s what this should be all about in the first place,” said Maharrey. “Even if the local community doesn’t stop these programs, at least they now have a chance, and keeping the decision-making on a city and town level gives advocates of liberty the best chance to get the job done.”
Also going to the Governor’s desk after passing the assembly by a 71-0 vote today is Senate Bill 2365 (S2365), also introduced by Sen. Gill. If signed by Christie, this would add another roadblock for federal military transfers to local police. It requires the Attorney General of the state to oversee and personally approve each federal transfer, and require a yearly report of “the number of equipment transfers that were made, specifically identifying each law enforcement agency which received the equipment, the exact equipment received, and the purposes for which the equipment will be used.”
Maharrey considered this helpful, nothing that until recently, the entire federal program was generally hidden from the public, and such reporting will make arguing the case against it locally far less difficult for those who want to see the program ended.
S2364 and S2365 will both be transmitted to Gov. Christie’s office in the coming days. They will both become law upon signature or inaction after 45 calendar days. Should that happen, New Jersey will be the first state in the country to take action against the Pentagon 1033 Program since it came to heavy public attention last year.
Other states, such as Tennessee and New Hampshire are considering legislation to ban the program completely.
In New Jersey, follow the steps to support these bills at THIS LINK.
All other states, take action at this link.