RICHMOND, Va. (Oct 15, 2020) – Yesterday, the Virginia House and Senate gave final approval to a bill that would put limits on state and local law enforcement agencies’ ability to acquire certain military equipment from federal programs.
Del. Dan Helmer (D-Fairfax Station) introduced House Bill 5049 (HB5049) on Aug. 17. The legislation would prohibit a state or local law enforcement agency from acquiring or purchasing the following military equipment.
(i) weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles
(ii) aircraft that are configured for combat or are combat-coded and have no established commercial flight application
(iii) grenades or similar explosives or grenade launchers from a surplus program operated by the federal government
(iv) armored multi-wheeled vehicles that are mine-resistant, ambush-protected, and configured for combat, also known as MRAPs, from a surplus program operated by the federal government
(vi) firearms of .50 caliber or higher
(vii) ammunition of .50 caliber or higher
(viii) weaponized tracked armored vehicles.
The proposed law specifies that it does not “restrict the acquisition or purchase of an armored high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicle, also known as HMMWVs.”
The legislation applies both to the well-known 1033 program, along with any other military surplus program operated by the federal government, as well as federal programs that fund the acquisition of surplus military equipment.
HB5049 requires any agency in possession of prohibited items to cease using them unless they obtain a waiver from the Criminal Justice Services Board.
The House and Senate initially passed different versions of HB5049. The Senate stripped out important transparency provisions that would have required law enforcement agencies to publish a public notice within 14 days of requesting any allowable military equipment from a federal program. The legislation went to a conference committee that presented a compromise version. On Oct. 14, the House gave final approval by a 54-42 vote and the Senate approved the measure 21-17. The bill now goes to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk for his consideration.
While the enactment of HB5049 wouldn’t end the militarization of local cops, even as amended, it would keep some dangerous weapons out of the hands of police officers and set the stage for further limits in the future.
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 HB5049 would limit Virginia’s participation in federal police militarization programs and create a framework of transparency. 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 HB5049 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in Virginia.
If the bill is transmitted to Gov Northam prior to seven days before the special session ends, he will have seven days to sign or veto the bill. If it goes to his desk within 7 days of adjournment, he will have 30 days to act. If he takes no action, it will become law without his signature.
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