SALEM, Ore. (April 12, 2021) – Last Friday, the Oregon House passed a bill that would ban state and local law enforcement agencies from acquiring certain military equipment from federal programs and place other limits on police militarization.
Rep. Karin Power (D-Milwaukie) and Rep. Julianne Fahey (D-West Eugene) filed House Bill 2481 (HB2481) on Jan. 11. The legislation would ban state and local law enforcement agencies from receiving certain equipment from military surplus programs operated by the federal government. It would also increase oversight and transparency for the acquisition of allowable equipment.
HB2481 would ban the following:
- Unmanned aircraft systems that are armored or weaponized
- Aircraft that are combat-configured or combat-coded
- Grenades or similar explosives, or grenade launchers
- Firearms silencers
On April 9, the House passed HB2481 by a 39-9 vote.
As introduced, the bill would have all barred acquisition of mine-resistant vehicles, unmanned ground vehicles, or militarized combat, assault, or armored vehicles. That provision was removed by the House Judiciary Committee.
HB2481 would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using federal funds to purchase allowable equipment from military surplus programs. They would be required to use state or local funds. It would also require a law enforcement agency to get written permission from their local governing body before acquiring allowable equipment.
The legislation includes provisions to increase transparency. Police departments requesting allowable equipment from federal military surplus programs would be required to publish notice of the request on a publicly accessible website within 14 days after the request.
The legislation applies both to the well-known 1033 program, along with any other military surplus program operated by the federal government.
While passage of HB2481 wouldn’t end the militarization of Oregon police departments, it would keep some dangerous weapons out of the hands of police officers 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, banning federal funding, and requiring written permission for local governing bodies 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.
Passage of HB2481 would limit Oregon’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. The passage of HB2481 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in Oregon.
HB2481 will now move to the Senate for further consideration. At the time of this report, it had not been referred to a Senate committee. Once it receives a committee assignment, the bill must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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