MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (Jan. 31, 2023) – A bill introduced in the Minnesota Senate would ban state and local law enforcement agencies from acquiring some military equipment from one major federal program.
Sen. John Marty (D) introduced Senate Bill 863 (SF863) on Jan. 28. The legislation would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies in Minnesota from acquiring “military-grade weapons” from the federal 1033 program. SF863 defines military-grade weapons as “militarily equipped vehicles and aircraft, weapons and other objects designed to primarily have a military purpose or offensive capability, and ammunition.”
This would not prohibit police departments from acquiring other equipment from the 1033 program, such as generators and medical equipment.
Passage of SF863 would take a first step toward limiting the militarization of police in Minnesota, but wouldn’t stop it completely. It would not prohibit law enforcement agencies from acquiring equipment through other military surplus programs operated by the federal government or from buying it with federal grant money.
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 Trump’s action rescinded an Obama-era policy meant to provide greater transparency and oversight around the Department of Defense 1033 program and other federal resources that provide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. An executive order signed by Pres. Biden reinstated the Obama policy with a few improvements. But in practice, the Obama EO was little more than window-dressing and 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 remains essentially intact. Military gear continues to pour into local police agencies, just as it did when Obama was in the White House.
Furthermore, 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 to permanently withdraw the state from these federal programs.
While the passage of SF863 wouldn’t end police militarization, it would take the first step by limiting the type of equipment police could get through the 1033 program.
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 SF863 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in Minnesota.
SB863 was referred to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee where it must get a hearing and pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.