By: Mike Maharrey
BOSTON, Mass. (March 28, 2019) – A bill introduced in the Massachusetts House would take a first step toward limiting the impact of federal programs that militarize local police.
Rep. Denise Provost (D-Middlesex) and Rep. James Hawkins (D-Attleboro) introduced House Bill 2119 (H2119) earlier this year. The legislation would prohibit law enforcement agencies from acquiring a long list of military equipment from federal surplus programs without local government approval.
The law 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 unmanned aerial vehicles, armored vehicles, bayonets, bombs, directed-energy weapons, grenade launchers, international mobile subscriber identity catchers, launch vehicles, mines, missiles, radioactive or nuclear weapons, rockets, silencers, torpedoes, toxicological agents, including chemical agents, biological agents, and associated equipment, or ultrasonic devices used for crowd dispersal.
Police departments often obtain military 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 Trump’s action rescinded an Obama-era policy meant to provide greater transparency and oversight around the Department of Defense 1033 program and other federal resources that provide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.
Pasage of H2119 would create a framework for accountability and transparency for police militarization programs in Massachusetts. It would also create a foundation for the public to stop their local police from obtaining this type of gear.
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 H2119 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in Massachusetts.
H2119 was referred to the Joint Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.