BOSTON, Mass. (July 16, 2019) – Last week, a joint committee held a hearing on two bills that 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.

Rep. Denise Provost (D-Middlesex)  and Rep. James Hawkins (D-Attleboro) introduced House Bill 2119 (H2119) earlier this year. The legislation would prohibit law enforcement agencies from acquiring a long list of military equipment from federal surplus programs without local government approval. It covers an extensive list of military items including unmanned aerial vehicles, armored vehicles, bayonets, bombs, directed-energy weapons, grenade launchers, international mobile subscriber identity catchers, launch vehicles, mines, missiles, radioactive or nuclear weapons, rockets, silencers, torpedoes, toxicological agents, including chemical agents, biological agents, and associated equipment, or ultrasonic devices used for crowd dispersal.

Both S1358 and H2119 would apply both to the well-known 1033 program, along with any other military surplus program operated by the federal government.

On July 11, the Joint Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee held a public hearing on both bills.


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.

Passage of S1358 or H2119  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.


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 or H2119 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in Massachusetts.


The Joint Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee could approve one or both of these bills, or it could combine their provisions into a new bill, or it could take no action on this subject at all.

Mike Maharrey

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