BOSTON, Mass. (Dec. 18, 2023) – Last week, a Massachusetts joint committee held a public hearing on two bills that would take the first step to limit state participation in federal police militarization programs by prohibiting local law enforcement agencies from acquiring certain military equipment from federal programs without local government approval.
Sen. Michael Barrett and two cosponsors introduced Senate Bill 1478 (S1478) last February. Rep. Mary Keefe and four cosponsors introduced House Bill 2348 (H2348) in the House at the same time. The legislation would require law enforcement agencies to get local government approval before obtaining military equipment through federal programs.
The bills would prohibit local law enforcement agencies from applying for or receiving military-grade controlled property or funds for the acquisition or transfer of military-grade controlled property from a federal agency – unless the local law enforcement agency provides notice to the local legislative body, including a detailed list of supplies and equipment sought to be acquired or transferred. A public hearing would also be required, allowing the public to testify and comment. Finally, the local governing body would have to vote to approve the intended application or transfer.
is defined as “equipment, articles, services, and related technical data as enumerated in the United States munitions list under 22 C.F.R. 121.1 or the Department of Commerce control list under 15 C.F.R. 774.
The bill also includes provisions requiring state law enforcement agencies to get approval from the state department overseeing the agency.
The legislation applies both to the well-known 1033 program, along with any other military surplus program operated by the federal government.
While passage of S1478/H2348 wouldn’t end the militarization, it would make it more difficult for police to obtain such weapons and equipment and set the stage for further limits in the future.
Police departments often obtain military and surveillance equipment from the federal government in complete secrecy. Requiring public disclosure of all requests for military gear would bring the process into the open and provide an opportunity for concerned residents to stop the acquisition through their local representatives.
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 S1478/H2348 wouldn’t end police militarization, it would take the first step by limiting the type of equipment police could get through the 1033 program or using federal money.
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 S1478/H2348 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in Minnesota.
S1478 or H2348 needs to be brought up for a vote and pass the Joint Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee by a majority before moving forward in the legislative process.
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