Lawmakers look at Restricting Military Gear Going to Police

June 2, 2020 Updated: June 2, 2020

The violent protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police have re-energized lawmakers to end the tradition of distributing surplus military gear to law enforcement organizations.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) said he would lead an effort in the House Armed Services Committee to restrict the Pentagon’s 1033 Program which has provided military gear to over 8,600 federal, state, and local police departments since it started.

“Local law enforcement officers shouldn’t be confronting civilians with weapons designed for combat,” Rep. Gallego said.

A militarized police force makes our communities less safe and heightens the growing divide between police officers and the citizens they are sworn to protect. It also increases the likelihood that disproportionate or deadly force will be used, a problem that has led to these protests in the first place,” added Gallego

The goal of the 1033 Program was to find a use for surplus equipment the Defense Department no longer needed. This program was started over 3 decades ago, in the 1990s, and run by the Defense Logistics Agency.

Over $6 billion worth of military equipment including armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft, riot control gear, and certain types of weaponry, firearms, and ammunition have been transferred to various law enforcement departments across the country.

The first attempt to curtail the program was made in 2014 after seeing the effect of heavily armed police officers in riot gear in Ferguson, Missouri when Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) headed up the effort to change the practice. Johnson’s “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act” was reintroduced in 2019 and it got bipartisan support.

Johnson’s bill would require law enforcement agencies to return some of the equipment previously supplied to them and provide greater accountability of how and what they are given is used.

Senator Paul Rand (R-Ky.) supported the bill because he said it would cut back on wasteful spending and stop militarizing the police force.

“Not surprisingly, big government in Washington has created an incentivized system in which local law enforcement is provided mass amounts of equipment to build up forces that resemble small armies.”

“Our neighborhoods aren’t warzones,” said Gallego, who served in Iraq as a Marine.  “As a combat veteran and proud Marine, very little of my equipment or training was relevant to policing Phoenix or any American community.”

On Sunday, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), said in a tweet that he intends to introduce an amendment to the Senate version of the defense authorization bill that would discontinue the program.

“I will be introducing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to discontinue the program that transfers military weaponry to local police departments,” said Schatz.

The Obama administration issued an executive order 13688 in January 2015 that forced some limitations on the transfer of military equipment and increased oversight of the practice. That order resulted in recommendations on the prohibition and control of the transfer of certain kinds of military equipment.

President Donald Trump issued his own executive order in August 2017, rolling-back the Obama administration restrictions.