SACRAMENTO, Ca. (Apr. 29, 2015) – A bill taking important first steps to stop federal programs militarizing local police passed unanimously through a California Assembly committee last week.
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.
Introduced by Asm. Nora Campos (D-San Jose), Assembly Bill 36 (AB36) flips this process around. It would “prohibit a local agency from receiving surplus military equipment….unless the legislative body of the local agency votes to approve the acquisition at a regular public meeting held pursuant to the Ralph M. Brown Act.“
“Due to recent events of police brutality, distrust between law enforcement and many of our communities remains at an all-time high,” said Campos. “Further exacerbating the issue is the recent militarization of law enforcement agencies and a movement away from community policing across the nation.”
Passage into law would act as a blanket prohibition on transfers as they have been happening around the country today, only authorizing them with an express public act, subject to hearings involving the general public.
It passed through the Assembly Committee on Local Government unanimously on April 23 with a 9-0 vote.
“This is an important first step,” said Tenth Amendment Center communications director Mike Maharrey. “Federal influence and control over local police has cause serious problems in this country, and the best response to this nationalization is to start bringing the decision-making closer to home, and the people it effects.”
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.
The Office of Emergency Services (OES) is responsible for administering the 1033 Program in California. It keeps an up-to-date inventory of federal military transfers occurring within the state. However, according to the Assembly on Local Government’s analysis of AB39, the OES has not made that information publicly available on their website. Recently, the cities of Davis and San Jose decided to return surplus equipment acquired under the program.
Currently, these military transfers happen directly between the feds and local police, as if they make up part of the same government. This law interposes the local government in the process, giving the people of California the power and mechanism to end it, and at the least, forcing the process into the open. At it is today, people have almost no means of preventing these transfers.
Making the local approval requirement part of the Ralph M. Brown Act ensures that the public can be a part of the process if they want. The law was enacted in response to mounting public concerns over informal, undisclosed meetings held by local elected officials. City councils, county boards, and other local government bodies were avoiding public scrutiny by holding secret “workshops” and “study sessions.” It requires, among other things, notice for meetings and the ability of the public to attend in person.
in March, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a similar bill into law, making his state the first in the country to push questions of federal militarization to the local level. A broader bill, with an outright ban on receiving certain military weapons or even purchasing them with federal grants was signed into law this month by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
Similar bills are up for consideration in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Washington State and elsewhere. “These states are taking important first steps towards ending this federal militarization and control of local police,” said Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center. “As James Madison taught us, refusing to cooperate with federal programs in multiple states is the most effective way to bring them down.”
AB36 must now pass through the Assembly Appropriations Committee before it can receive a vote in the full state Assembly.
For California: Take steps to support this bill at THIS LINK.
For other states: Take action to push back against federal militarization of your police at this link.
NOTE: Shane Trejo and Mike Maharrey contributed to this report
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