TRENTON, N.J. (May 26, 2021) – Bills introduced in the New Jersey Assembly and Senate that would take the first step toward limiting the impact of federal programs that militarize local police and expand the national surveillance state.

Rep. Shavonda Sumter (D) introduced Assembly Bill 5027 (A5027) on November 19, 2020. A companion Senate Bill 1632 (S1632), was introduced by Sen. Nia Gill (D) on February 13. The legislation would require attorney general oversight for the transfer of any federal surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement. In order to be approved, a demonstrative need for the equipment must be shown, it must be determined whether specialized training will be necessary, and equipment storage and maintenance requirements must be met. The AG would report annually to the Governor on these transfers, as well as the head of the Assembly and Senate.

The bill only applies to equipment procured through the federal 1033 program.

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 Trump’s action rescinded an Obama-era policy meant to provide greater transparency and oversight around the Department of Defense 1033 program and other federal resources that provide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 enactment of this legislation 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 California. 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 these bills would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in New Jersey.

WHAT’S NEXT

A5027 has been referred to the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee, and S1632 to the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. Both bills must come up for a hearing and pass out with a majority vote in order to continue on in the legislative process.

 

Amanda Bowers


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