ANNAPOLIS, Md. (May 10, 2021) – Last week, a Maryland bill banning state and local law enforcement agencies from acquiring certain military equipment from federal programs became law. The enactment of this law takes an essential step toward ending the federal militarization of police within the state.

Sen. William Smith (D) introduced Senate Bill 600 (SB600) on Jan 29. As introduced, the legislation instituted reporting requirements law enforcement agencies must follow relating to the police-involved death of a civilian. During the legislative process, the bill was amended to include the provisions limiting the militarization of police originally introduced in SB599.

The new law prohibits 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.

SB600 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.”

The House passed SB600 by a 98-39 vote. The Senate gave final approval on April 7 by a 31-16 vote. Gov. Larry Hogan took no action on the bill and it became law on May 8 without his signature. It will go into effect Oct 1, 2021.

The proposed law would apply both to the well-known 1033 program, along with any other military surplus program operated by the federal government.

Maryland already has a law requiring law enforcement agencies to submit a report on the acquisition of military surplus equipment. While the enactment of SB600 would not end police militarization in Maryland,  it would take a solid second 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 SB600 would take a step to 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 SB600 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in Maryland.


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