Obama announced the need to review the Department of Defense’s program that sends unused military items to local police departments and agencies. Obama said the need to ensure the lines between local law enforcement and military forces are not blurred. He said the program should “make sure what they’re purchasing is stuff they actually need.”
Obama made the remarks at a press conference Monday after meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder, who will be traveling to Ferguson, Mo. That city has seen night after night of unrest and riots between protesters and police following the officer-involved shooting of a teenager.
The U.S. Defense Department has been contributing to the militarization of local police forces since at least 2007, handing over heavy armaments, battle helicopters and armored vehicles for use in urban policing scenarios.
Police can be seen almost nightly armed to the teeth and wearing near-full body armor, clashing with protesters in the streets. Some of that gear they are using could be straight from the military. It is a program from the Defense Logistics Agency known as the 1033 Program and it allows unused military surplus to be requested and sent to local law enforcement agencies.
Ferguson, Mo. police advanced through a cloud of tear gas toward demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on Sunday night, armed to the teeth and decked out in surplus U.S. Army gear
Records from the US Defense Logistics Agency show local police are getting heavy weapons that the Pentagon doesn’t want to inventory, including $18 million in combat helicopters. Military weapons and armor have crossed over from Army bases to police barracks tens of thousands of times in the last seven years, including firearms and anti-ambush vehicles.
The list of items migrating from military bases into police barracks would look more at home in ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ and in ‘Full Metal Jacket.’
- Two South Carolina counties got $4 million mobile radio broadcast stations designed to flood enemy territory with propaganda messages. The ‘Special Operations Media System B’ (SOMS-B) radio systems consist of radio and television broadcast stations and antennas mounted on humvees that tow their own generators. It’s 21 tons of gear in all, according to the Department of the Army.
- Texas agencies received $181,000,000 worth of items since the program’s creation. Most of the departments have been using the program to get items because they operate on a tight budget; Longview police received one of the most expensive items, a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, commonly referred to as an MRAP. Agencies in four other East Texas counties also received MRAPs from the military. Assurances have been made that the cost to acquire the items are not a taxpayers’ expense.
- More than $45 million worth of rifles – some 89,000 in all, in three calibers – also left the federal government and landed in the trunks of police cruisers.
- In three U.S. counties, authorities received 13 M59A ‘field range’ sniper rifles, worth $3,263 each. Police in Covington County, Alabama; Kern County, California and Lee County, Florida were the lucky recipients of those firearms. The latter two are home to the cities of Bakersfield and Fort Myers, respectively.
- The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office operates a small fleet of just three choppers. There at 16 different incorporated towns and cities in the county, but the Pentagon hasn’t provided information about which police forces operate those aircraft.
- 98 battle vehicles classified as ‘combat / assault / tactical’
Obama said he thinks there will be bipartisan support to review the DLA programs.
Military weapons and armor have crossed over from Army bases to police barracks tens of thousands of times in the last seven years, including firearms and anti-ambush vehicles