HONOLULU, Hawaii (Feb 2, 2022) – A bill introduced in the Hawaii Senate would ban state and local law enforcement agencies from acquiring certain military equipment from federal programs.
Sen. Stanley Chang (D) along with two other Democrats introduced Senate Bill 2239 (SB2239) on Jan. 21. The legislation would prohibit Hawaii state and local law enforcement agencies from receiving or purchasing the following property from a military equipment surplus program operated by the federal government:
- Weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles
- Aircraft that are configured for combat or are combat-coded and have no established flight commercial flight application
- Grenade launchers and grenades or similar explosives and explosive delivery devices
- Military standard-issue rifles
- Armored multi-wheeled vehicles that are mine-resistant, ambush-protected, and configured for combat from a surplus program operated by the federal government
- Camouflage uniforms
- Sound cannons, sound energy weapons, or long-range acoustic devices
Use of kinetic energy munitions or noxious chemical agents regarding protests or demonstrations would also be prohibited by law enforcement.
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 Trump’s action rescinded an Obama-era policy meant to provide greater transparency and oversight around the Department of Defense 1033 program and other federal resources that provide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.
The passage of SB2239 would limit Hawaii’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 in the first place.
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. Passage of SB2239 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in Hawaii.
SB2239 has been referred to the Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee. It must pass out with a majority vote in order to continue on in the legislative process.
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