BOSTON (Mar. 23, 2015) – A bill introduced in the Massachusetts state House would prohibit state and local police from procuring military equipment from the federal government without a public hearing and local government approval, taking the process out of the hands of law enforcement agencies and placing it under control of the people.
House Bill 2144 (H.2144) was introduced on March 11 by Rep. Mary Keefe (D-Worcester) and 13 co-sponsors. The bill would require local law enforcement agencies to provide notice to its local legislative body before applying for acquisition of military hardware, followed by a mandatory public hearing. Law enforcement would be required to address all questions from officials and residents raised at the hearing in writing. The the legislative body then must conduct a public vote approving the weapons transfer before law enforcement is allowed obtain military hardware.
Multi-jurisdictional law enforcement task forces would have to notify all local government bodies withing their operating area before applying for military equipment, and the Secretary of Public Safety and Security must approve the request, taking into consideration information, comments and recommendations from the local legislative bodies. State police would have to obtain approval from the Secretary of Public Safety and Security.
The requirements imposed by the legislation not only cover military equipment transferred to state and local law enforcement through the federal 1033 surplus program, but also any other programs, federal funds or grant money used to procure such equipment.
H.2144 would put an end to state and local police agencies arming themselves in secret, with no oversight or accountability. It would remove the process from the hands of unelected police department bureaucrats and place it in the hands of elected officials accountable to the people. Practically speaking, the bill would almost certainly limit the amount and types of military equipment obtained by police in Massachusetts.
“Arming ‘peace officers’ like they’re ready to occupy an enemy city is totally contrary to the society envisioned by the Founders,” said Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center. “They’ve turned ‘protect and serve’ into ‘command and control.’”
In the 1980s, the federal government began arming, funding and training local police forces, turning peace officers into soldiers to fight in its unconstitutional “War on Drugs.” The militarization went into hyper-drive after 9/11 when a second front opened up – the “War on Terror.”
Through the federal 1033 Program, local police departments procure military grade weapons, including automatic assault rifles, body armor and mine resistant armored vehicles – essentially unarmed tanks. Police departments can even get their hands on military helicopters and other aircraft.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) runs the “Homeland Security Grant Program,” which in 2013 gave more than $900 million in counterterrorism funds to state and local police. According to a 2012 Senate report, this money has been used to purchase tactical vehicles, drones, and even tanks with little obvious benefit to public safety. And, according to ProPublica, “In 1994, the Justice Department and the Pentagon funded a five-year program to adapt military security and surveillance technology for local police departments that they would otherwise not be able to afford.”
By stripping state and local police of this military-grade gear and requiring them to report on their acquisition and use, it makes them less likely to cooperate with the feds and removes incentives for partnerships. H.2144 would be an important first step toward that goal.
The bill was referred to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security where it will need to pass through successfully before it can receive a full vote in the state house.
In Massachusetts: Support this bill by following all the steps at THIS LINK.
For other states: Take action to push back against federal militarization of your police at this link.