ANNAPOLIS, Md. (March 4, 2021) – Yesterday, the Maryland Senate unanimously passed a bill that would ban state and local law enforcement agencies from acquiring certain military equipment from federal programs, an essential step toward ending federal militarization of police within the state.
Sen. William Smith (D) introduced Senate Bill 599 (SB599) on Jan. 29. The legislation would prohibit Maryland state and local law enforcement agencies from receiving or purchasing the following property from a military equipment surplus program operated by the federal government.
- A weaponized, aircraft, drone; or vehicle;
- A destructive device;
- A firearm silencer; or
- A grenade launcher.
SB599 defines a “destructive device” as “explosive material, incendiary material, or toxic material that is combined with a delivery or detonating apparatus so as to be capable of inflicting injury to persons or damage to property; or deliberately modified, containerized, or otherwise equipped with a special delivery, activation, or detonation component that gives the material destructive characteristics of a military ordnance.”
On March 3, the Senate passed SB599 by a 47-0 vote with an amendment. The original versions would have banned “armored” aircraft, drones, or vehicles. This was amended out by the committee.
The proposed law would apply both to the well-known 1033 program, along with any other military surplus program operated by the federal government.
While the enactment of SB599 would not end police militarization in Maryland, it would take a solid first step and create a foundation to build on in the future.
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 Trump’s action rescinded an Obama-era policy meant to provide greater transparency and oversight around the Department of Defense 1033 program and other federal resources that provide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, the1033 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.
Passage of SB599 would permanently limit Maryland’s participation in federal police militarization programs.
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, it makes them less likely to cooperate with the feds and removes incentives for partnerships. Passage of SB599 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in Maryland.
SB599 will now move to the House for further consideration. At the time of this report, the bill had not been referred to a House committee. Once it receives a committee assignment, it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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