PHOENIX, Ariz. (Feb. 15, 2021) – A bill introduced in the Arizona Senate would take a first step toward limiting the impact of federal programs that militarize local police and expand the national surveillance state.
A coalition of seven Democrats introduced Senate Bill 1583 (SB1583) on Feb. 1. The legislation would require city and county agencies – including police departments – to get approval from their local governing body before doing any of the following.
- Seeking monies for new military equipment or surveillance equipment, including applying for a grant or soliciting or accepting state or federal monies or in-kind or other donations or transfers.
- Acquiring or borrowing new military equipment or surveillance equipment, whether or not that acquisition is made through the exchange of monies or for other or no consideration.
- Deploying or using new or existing military equipment or surveillance equipment for a purpose or in a manner that is not previously approved by the approving entity pursuant to this article, including sharing surveillance data from the new or existing military equipment or surveillance equipment.
- Soliciting proposals for or entering into an agreement with any other person or entity to acquire, share or otherwise use military equipment or surveillance equipment or its surveillance data.
An entity seeking to acquire military or surveillance equipment would have to submit a detailed impact report and use policy to the governing body. Before granting approval, the relevant approving entity would be required to hold a hearing “at which the public may provide online, written and oral testimony.” Prior notice of the meeting would be required. SB1583 would also establish detailed reporting requirements for any local government agency that acquires military or surveillance equipment.
The proposed law would require the agency acquiring military or surveillance equipment to include in its use policy specific limits, including limits on data storage and sharing.
The proposed law would apply 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 surveillance equipment.
Police departments often obtain military and surveillance 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
Police can get military-grade weapons through a number of federal programs, including the 1033 program, and via the Department of Homeland Security through 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. Biden will reportedly reinstitute the Obama policy, but it was nothing more than window-dressing. In practice, the Obama EO did little to stem the flow of military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.
Even with the Obama-era limits back in place, the 1033 program will remain essentially intact. Military gear will continue to pour into local police agencies, just as it did when Obama was in the White House.
Even if you see the Obama/Biden limits as a positive, the multiple federal flip-flops underscore the importance of putting limits on police militarization at the state and local level. Federal policy tends to change depending on the party in power. Whatever limits Biden imposes through executive order can be undone with a stroke of the next president’s pen. The only way to effectively end police militarization for good is permanently withdrawing the state from these federal programs.
While the passage of SB1583 wouldn’t end police militarization or stop government surveillance, it would take the first step by creating a framework for accountability and transparency for programs in Arizona. 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 SB1583 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in Arizona.
IMPACT ON FEDERAL SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMS
Local police have access to a mind-boggling array of surveillance equipment. As it now stands, many law enforcement agencies can obtain this high-tech, extremely intrusive technology without any approval or oversight. The federal government often provides grants and other funding sources for this spy-gear, meaning local governments can keep their purchase “off the books.” Members of the community, and even elected officials, often don’t know their police departments possess technology capable of sweeping up electronic data, phone calls and location information.
In some cases, the feds even require law enforcement agencies to sign non-disclosure agreements, wrapping surveillance programs in an even darker shroud of secrecy. We know for a fact the FBI required the Baltimore Police Department to sign such an agreement when it obtained stingray technology. This policy of nondisclosure even extends to the courtroom, with the feds actually instructing prosecutors to withdraw evidence if judges or legislators press for information. As the Baltimore Sun reported, a Baltimore detective refused to answer questions about the department’s use of stingray devices on the stand during a trial, citing a federal nondisclosure agreement.
The feds can share and tap into vast amounts of information gathered at the state and local level through fusion centers and a system known as the “information sharing environment” or ISE. In other words, stingrays create the potential for the federal government to track the movement of millions of Americans with no warrant, no probable cause, and without the people even knowing it.
Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”
Fusion centers operate within the broader ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.
The federal government encourages and funds surveillance technology including ALPRs, drones and stingrays at the state and local level across the U.S. In return, it undoubtedly gains access to a massive data pool on Americans without having to expend the resources to collect the information itself. By requiring approval and placing the acquisition of spy gear in the public spotlight, local governments can take the first step toward limiting the surveillance state at both the local and national level.
SB1583 was referred to the Senate Transportation and Technology Committee and the Senate Rules Committee. It must pass both committees by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.