HONOLULU, Hawaii (Jan. 6, 2022) Bills introduced in the Hawaii House and Senate would ban state and local law enforcement agencies from acquiring certain military equipment from federal programs.

Rep. Scott Saiki introduced House Bill 1381 (HB1381), and Sen. Stanley Chang introduced Senate Bill 30 (SB30). The legislation would not only prohibit the use of impact projectiles; rubber bullets, etc., and noxious chemical agents, such as tear gas, from being used at protests or demonstrations, it would also  prohibit police departments from acquiring the following items (through purchase or otherwise):

  • Weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles
  • Aircraft that are configured for combat or are combat-coded and have no established commercial flight application.
  • Grenade launchers and grenades or similar explosives and explosive delivery devices
  • Standard issue military rifles
  • Armored multi-wheeled vehicles that are mine-resistant, ambush-protected, and configured for combat from a surplus program operated by the federal government
  • Camouflaged uniforms
  • Sound cannons, sound energy weapons, or long range acoustic devices

Law enforcement would, however, be able to petition the director of public safety, regarding the acquisition of items for specialized/tactical teams.

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 passage of HB1381/SB30 wouldn’t end militarization, it would keep some dangerous weapons out of the hands of police officers and set the stage for further limits in the future.

Both bills were originally introduced during the 2021 legislative session. Neither bill received a committee hearing and both carry over to the 2022 legislative session.

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 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 HB1381/SB30  wouldn’t end police militarization, it would take the first step by creating a framework for accountability and transparency for programs in Hawaii. 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 enactment of HB1381/SB30 would take the first step toward limiting police militarization in Hawaii.

WHAT’S NEXT

HB1381 has been referred to the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, and SB30 has been referred to the Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs Committee. The bills must get a committee hearing and pass by a majority vote before moving on in the legislative process.

Amanda Bowers


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