WASHINGTON (July 28, 2020) – Last week, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed an ordinance that bans the D.C. police department from acquiring certain military-grade equipment from the federal government.
Titled the “Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Second Emergency Amendment Act of 2020” the ordinance makes multiple reforms and changes to Washington D.C. Police Department policy. Among the reforms, the new law bans the D.C.P.D. from acquiring any of the following equipment from “any program operated by the federal government.”
(1) Ammunition of .50 caliber or higher;
(2) Armed or armored aircraft or vehicles;
(4) Explosives or pyrotechnics, including grenades;
(5) Firearm mufflers or silencers;
(6) Firearms of .50 caliber or higher;
(7) Firearms, firearm accessories, or other objects, designed or capable of
launching explosives or pyrotechnics, including grenade launchers; and
(8) Remotely piloted, powered aircraft without a crew aboard, including drones.
The new law also includes provisions that will increase transparency. D.C. police are now required to publish a public notice within 14 days of requesting any allowable military equipment from a federal program.
The D.C. City Council approved the ordinance unanimously.
This is a temporary measure that will remain in effect for 90 days. The council plans to continue refining the law and to pass a permanent ordinance in the next three months.
The ordinance applies both to the well-known 1033 program, along with any other military surplus program operated by the federal government.
While passage the ordinance won’t end the militarization of local cops in D.C., it will keep some dangerous weapons out of the hands of police officers and set the stage for further limits in the future.
Police departments often obtain military and surveillance equipment from the federal government in complete secrecy. Requiring public disclosure of all requests for military gear brings the process into the open and provides 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.” 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.
The D.C. ordinance limits participation in federal police militarization programs and creates a framework of transparency. It also creates 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. Enactment of the D.C. ordinance takes a first step toward limiting police militarization in D.C.
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