All over the country police departments have been steadily arming themselves over the years with billions of dollars’ worth of military-grade equipment including grenade launchers, helicopters and machine guns.
The materiel comes from a U.S. military program that, until this week, received little public attention. But after St. Louis police used heavy-duty equipment in putting down riots and protests following the shooting death of an unarmed teen, attention and new questions are being raised about where this gear is coming from and more so, why do local police agencies need this type of militaristic arsenal.
The influx of equipment being funneled from the Department of Defense to local police departments traces back to a program created in the 1990’s. The excess property program, known as 1033, was initially created to help state and local authorities in the war against drugs, and help unused military equipment find a home, as opposed to being needlessly destroyed.
The program is a good deal for cash-strapped local governments and one the Pentagon refers to as “useful.” The 1033 program allows the secretary of Defense to “transfer, without charge, excess U.S. Department of Defense personal property (supplies and equipment) to state and local law enforcement agencies,” according to the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center.advertisement - story continues below
Shopping for these items is easy, local law enforcement agencies merely look through an online catalog to purchase items like small arms and tents. Getting a tank or military aircraft requires a small amount of extra work whereby authorities need to fill out a one-page request form, specifying if they prefer the vehicle with wheels or tank tracks.
Watch: Police use teargas, flash-bangs against protesters in Ferguson, Missouri
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