HONOLULU, Hawaii (Feb 10, 2022) – Last week, a Hawaii Senate committee unanimously passed a bill that 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 during protests or demonstrations would also be prohibited.

On Feb. 3, the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs passed SB2239 by a 4-0 vote.

The committee report included a specific example of how police use this kind of military equipment in Hawaii.

“Your Committee finds that every year, millions of dollars worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments.  For example, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Conservation and Resources Enforcement Division acquired a long-range acoustic device, often referred to as a “sound cannon”.  This weapon, which was developed for and is used by the military to force compliance by causing pain, has been brought by the State to peaceful demonstrations at Mauna Kea and at Sherwood Forest, though the State claimed that it would only be used as a loudspeaker and not to disperse crowds.  Long-range acoustic devices can cause devastating, long-lasting effects, and even permanent hearing loss.  Furthermore, militarized law enforcement tactics have been deployed disproportionately against communities of color.  This measure will prevent further intimidation of communities by law enforcement’s unwarranted use of weapons of war by prohibiting police departments from acquiring certain types of military equipment and using certain types of equipment on protesters and demonstrators.”

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.

WHAT’S NEXT

SB2239 now moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it must receive a hearing and pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.

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