CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (July 22, 2020) – On Monday, the Charlottesville City Council passed a non-binding resolution opposing the militarization of the city’s police department, setting the stage to ban city participation in federal programs that supply military surplus equipment to local police.
The resolution asserts that the Charlottesville Police Department “does not acquire weaponry from the United States armed forces,” and that it does not currently receive “military-style or ‘warrior’ training by the United States armed forces, a foreign military or police, or any private company.” It then resolves that “that the Charlottesville Police Department shall not acquire weaponry from the United States armed forces,” and further resolves the Charlottesville Police Department shall not receive military-style or ‘warrior’ training by the United States armed forces, a foreign military or police, or any private company.”
On July 20, the council unanimously passed the resolution.
This is a solid first step and puts every councilmember on record as opposing police militarization. Now activists in Charlottesville need to push for a legally-binding ordinance prohibiting the police department from acquiring military equipment from any federal program.
In Virginia, as in most other states, resolutions are generally passed to express the political opinion or will of a local governing body and are not legally binding. An ordinance has the effect of local law. That means even with the passage of the resolution, nothing legally prohibits the Charlottesville Police Department from acquiring military equipment from a federal program.
The Charlottesville City Council can give the resolution teeth with the passage of an ordinance prohibiting the acquisition of military equipment.
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.” The DHS doles out over $1 billion in counterterrorism funds to state and local police each year. 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 an ordinance could legally end Charlottesville’s participation in the 1033 program and bar the use of federal grant money to purchase military equipment.
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.