BOSTON, Mass. (May 10, 2019) – A bill introduced in the Massachusetts Senate would take a first step toward limiting the impact of federal programs that militarize local police.
Sen. Michael Barrett (D-Middlesex) introduced Senate Bill 1358 (S1358) on Jan. 22. The legislation would require law enforcement agencies to get local government approval after a public meeting before applying to receive military-grade equipment from any federal program. Police departments would also have to get approval before applying for any grants or funding to purchase military-grade equipment.
No local law enforcement agency shall apply for the transfer of military grade controlled property or related funds or grant monies from a federal agency without a prior public vote of approval by the local legislative body, which approval shall describe the supplies and equipment to be sought with particularity.
S1358 also includes provisions outlining an approval process for multi-jurisdictional law enforcement task forces to obtain military-grade equipment or funding for the same.
Under the proposed law, state police would have to get approval from the secretary of public safety and security before acquiring military equipment.
The proposed law would apply both to the well-known 1033 program, along with any other military surplus program operated by the federal government.
A similar bill was introduced in the Massachusetts House.
Police departments often obtain military equipment from the federal government in complete secrecy. Requiring local government approval would bring the process into the open and provide an opportunity for concerned residents to stop the acquisition through their local representatives.
FEDERAL SURPLUS AND GRANT MONEY
Through the federal 1033 Program, local police departments procure military grade weapons. Police can also get military equipment through the Department of Homeland Security via the (DHS) “Homeland Security Grant Program.” In 2013, DHS 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.”
In August 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that gave a push to local police militarization. Trump’s action rescinded an Obama-era policy meant to provide greater transparency and oversight around the Department of Defense 1033 program and other federal resources that provide military weapons to local police.
Pasage of S1358 would create a framework for accountability and transparency for police militarization programs in Massachusetts. It would also create a foundation for the public to stop their local police from obtaining this type of gear.
COMMAND AND CONTROL
Arming ‘peace officers’ like they’re ready to occupy an enemy city is totally contrary to the society envisioned by the founders. 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.”
By making it more difficult for local police to get this military-grade gear and surveillance technology, and ensuring they can’t do it in secret, it makes them less likely to cooperate with the feds and removes incentives for partnerships. Passage of S1358 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in Massachusetts.
S1358 was referred to the Joint Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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