How We Turned Our Cops Into Soldiers

by Dish Staff

The NYT has a great visualization on the surplus military gear being funneled to police departments. Here is one map, of several:

Assault Rifles


Shirley Li provides background on the 1033 program, the “Department of Defense initiative that channels surplus military equipment to state and local police departments.”:

The 1033 program reached as far as it did because of its attractive promise of sophisticated military-grade equipment and easy access, Cato Institute Project on Criminal Justice Director Tim Lynch told The Wire. “Police in these small police departments, they go to their chief and say, ‘Look, the Pentagon’s going to give away this equipment. If we don’t grab it now, the next county will. We need it just in case,'” Lynch said. “No police chief will say no, so they acquire it and put it in a warehouse so most people, even people in the city council, aren’t aware of it.” …

“I think the 1033 program should be shut down,” he told The Wire. “I think that will restore some common sense to these agencies around the country because when they have to spend their own money, it changes the dynamic. They have to decide whether they need a new police car or a new officer or an armored vehicle from the Pentagon.”

Ingraham looks at how the wars have put the program on steroids:

In 2006, the Pentagon transferred roughly $33 million worth of goods to local agencies. By 2013 that number had risen more than tenfold, to at least $420 million. Much of this can be explained by the winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As those missions ended, more surplus goods became available for domestic use.

Military Gear

In 2012 the Pentagon transferred 27 mine-resistant vehicles and other armored combat vehicles to local law enforcement agencies. That number jumped more than sevenfold the following year. In 2014 so far, heavy armored combat vehicles account for nearly half of the total dollar value of gear transferred to local agencies.

Annie Lowrey explains why the police were militarized:

It all starts back in 1990, a time when the country found itself with less demand for military equipment abroad and new use for it back home. Within our shores, the drug wars were escalating; gang violence was surging; and sociologists were warning of sociopathic child “superpredators.” At the same time, the military was starting to shrink as the Cold War ended. Put two and two together and you get the 1033 program, which transferred assets from the military to the police. (Here’s a capsule history.) … But here’s the thing. Since 1990, according to Department of Justice statistics, the United States has become a vastly safer place, at least in terms of violent crime.

Drum adds:

We’ve spent the past two decades militarizing our police forces to respond to problems that never materialized, and now we’re stuck with them. We don’t need commando teams and SWAT units in every town in America to deal with either terrorism or an epidemic of crime, so they get used for other things instead. And that’s how we end up with debacles like Ferguson.

Police militarization was a mistake. You can argue that perhaps we didn’t know that at the time. No one knew in 1990 that crime was about to begin a dramatic long-term decline, and no one knew in 2001 that domestic terrorism would never become a serious threat. But we know now. There’s no longer even a thin excuse for arming our police forces this way.

Ezra joins the conversation:

Police get all this equipment and, as a condition of the program, need to use it within a year. What they don’t get is training. The ACLU’s Kara Dansky, who authored an important report on police militarization, told Vox she was “not aware of any training that the government provides in terms of use of the equipment,” or of “any oversight in terms of safeguards regarding the use of the equipment by the Defense Department.”

So police have all this military equipment, very little training on how to use it, and a requirement that they deploy it within a year. But the problems they were supposed to use the equipment against have either eased or vanished.

Ken Snyder, a reader over at Rod Dreher’s place, spotlights the role that the public has played:

[T]he important point is that I think this is what we citizens wanted. We want the police to be ready and able to deal with terrorists and active shooters. So these are the police that we want, but only in very specific situations. So citizens are shocked to see that equipment and, if not tactics, that same mindset applied in situations like Ferguson, and the many examples that are shared across web sites and local media. But once the police have this equipment, training, and mindset, as a practical matter, the citizens of a particular community don’t get to decide when they utilize it. We leave that up to the ‘experts’ who have ‘all of the information’. I think in some ways this is just another facet of the ongoing discussion in our country about NSA spying, etc: we want security, but at what price?