By: Mike Maharrey
PHOENIX, Ariz. (Feb 8, 2019) – A bill introduced in the Arizona Senate would require law enforcement agencies to get local government approval before acquiring or using military equipment or surveillance technology. Passage of the legislation would set the stage to limit the surveillance state, along with the impact of federal programs that militarize local police.
Sen. Juan Mendez (D-Tempe) along with three Democrat cosponsors, introduced Senate Bill 1206 (SB1206). The legislation would require Arizona law enforcement agencies to get approval from the government body that oversees it before funding, acquiring or deploying military or surveillance equipment. As part of the approval process, the law enforcement agency would be required to develop an impact report, make it publically available and submit it to its local government body. The report would have to include a large amount of information including how the equipment would be used, how the department would ensure the protection of civil liberties, and in the case of surveillance, how the data would be stored, shared and protected.
The governmental body could only approve a request form a law enforcement agency to fund, acquire or use military equipment or surveillance equipment only if the approving entity determines all of the following:
- The benefits of the military equipment or surveillance equipment outweigh the costs of the military equipment or surveillance equipment.
- The proposal will safeguard the public’s welfare, civil liberties and civil rights.
- The uses and deployments of the military equipment or surveillance equipment will not be based on discriminatory or viewpoint‑based factors or have a disparate impact on any community or group.
SB1206 would apply both to the well-known 1033 program, along with any other military surplus program operated by the federal government. The legislation covers an extensive list of military items including manned aircraft; unmanned aerial vehicles; wheeled or tracked armored vehicles, including mine-resistant and ambush-protected vehicles; tactical vehicles and vessels; command and control vehicles; firearms and ammunition with a caliber of .50 caliber or higher; firearms and ammunition under .50 caliber, other than service weapons, and ammunition therefor, issued to local police officers; bayonets; grenade launchers; grenades, including stun and flash-bang grenades; explosives and pyrotechnics; silencers; breaching apparatuses; riot batons; helmets and shields; long-range acoustic devices; night vision devices; and camouflage uniforms. It also covers surveillance technology such as cell site simulators, ALPR’s, surveillance cameras, and social media monitoring software.
Police departments often obtain military and surveillance equipment from the federal government in complete secrecy. Requiring local government approval 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
Through the federal 1033 Program, local police departments procure military grade weapons. Police can also get military equipment through the Department of Homeland Security via the (DHS) “Homeland Security Grant Program.” In 2013, DHS gave more than $900 million in counterterrorism funds to state and local police. 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.
SB1206 would stop police from getting military equipment without local government approval.This would ensure accountability and transparency, and create a foundation for the public to stop their local police from obtaining this type of gear.
IMPACT ON FEDERAL SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMS
Local police also have access to a mind-boggling array of surveillance equipment. As it now stands, many law enforcement agencies can obtain this high-tech, extremely intrusive technology without any approval or oversight. The federal government often provides grants and other funding sources for this spy-gear, meaning local governments can keep their purchase “off the books.” Members of the community, and even elected officials, often don’t know their police departments possess technology capable of sweeping up electronic data, phone calls and location information.
Information collected by local law enforcement undoubtedly ends up in federal databases. The feds can share and tap into vast amounts of information gathered at the state and local level through fusion centers and a system known as the “information sharing environment” or ISE. In other words, local data collection using ALPRs, stingrays and other technologies create the potential for the federal government to track the movement of millions of Americans, and obtain and store information on millions of Americans, including phone calls, emails, web browsing history and text messages, all with no warrant, no probable cause, and without the people even knowing it.
Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”
Fusion centers operate within the broader ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.
The federal government encourages and funds surveillance technology including ALPRs, drones and stingrays at the state and local level across the U.S. In return, it undoubtedly gains access to a massive data pool on Americans without having to expend the resources to collect the information itself. By requiring approval and placing the acquisition of spy gear in the public spotlight, local governments can take the first step toward limiting the surveillance state at both the local and national level.
In a nutshell, without state and local cooperation, the feds have a much more difficult time gathering information. This represents a major blow to the surveillance state and a win for privacy.
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 SB1206 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in Arizona.
SB1206 was referred to the Transportation and Public Safety Committee where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.