COLUMBIA, S.C. (Dec. 6, 2021) – A bill prefiled in the South Carolina House for the 2022 legislative session would take the first step toward limiting federal militarization of state and local police.

A bipartisan coalition of three representatives prefiled House Bill 4542 (H4542) on Nov. 10. The legislation would ban law enforcement agencies from acquiring or purchasing certain military equipment. The list of banned equipment includes:

  • Weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles;
  • Aircraft that are configured for combat or are combat-coded and do not have an established flight application
  • Grenades or similar explosives or grenade launchers from a surplus program operated by the federal government
  • Armored-multi wheeled vehicles that are mine-resistant, ambush-protected, and configured for combat, also known as MRAPs, from a surplus program operated by the federal government
  • Bayonets
  • Firearms of .50 caliber or higher
  • Ammunition of .50 caliber or higher
  • Weaponized tracked armored vehicles

The bill stipulates that it would not prohibit law enforcement agencies from acquiring “armored high-mobility multipurpose-wheeled vehicle, also known as an HMMWV.”

A law enforcement agency already in possession of any banned item would have to immediately stop using it until getting a waiver from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

The proposed law would bar law enforcement agencies from acquiring banned military equipment from any source, including the well-known federal 1033 program along with any other military surplus program operated by the federal government.

While the passage of H4542 would not end police militarization in South Carolina, it would prohibit police from acquiring some of the most powerful weapons and equipment available to law enforcement from the feds, and it would set the stage for further limits 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.”

According to the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO), As of 2020, the 1033 program alone has transferred more than $7.4 billion in military equipment to some 8,000 state and local law enforcement agencies.

A 2017 study by the University of Tampa showed that loading up police with military gear tends to escalate police violence.

“Our research suggests that officers with military hardware and mindsets will resort to violence more quickly and often. Other research shows that when governmental responses are violent, dissidents and protestors are more likely to act violently at the site and in the future. Of course, that leads to more violence from the government creating a spiral that is hard to escape.”

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 was reportedly planning to reinstitute the Obama policy, but to date has not followed through. Regardless, the Biden “reform” 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 if Biden eventually gets around to putting the Obama-era limits back in place, the 1033 program would remain essentially intact. Military gear would continue to pour into local police agencies, just as it did when Obama was in the White House.

The multiple federal flip-flops underscore the importance of putting limits on police militarization at the state and local levels. 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 H4542 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 South Carolina. 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.”

Limiting police access to military-grade gear and surveillance technology makes them less likely to cooperate with the feds and removes incentives for partnerships. Passage of H4542 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in South Carolina.

WHAT’S NEXT

H4542 will be officially introduced when the 2022 South Carolina legislative session begins on Jan. 11. It will be referred to the House Committee on Judiciary where it must receive a hearing and pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.


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