Obama Review Of Military Gear Handed To Law Enforcement; Thinks Real Problem Is 'Training And Guidance'

from the emptiest-of-gestures dept

President Obama, most likely prompted by the invasion of Ferguson by armed forces, has called for a review of military equipment provided to local police departments by the same government he presides over. Presumably, this isn’t the sort of “review” he has in mind.

Photo credit: kremlin.ru via Wikimedia Commons

Not that local law enforcement agencies couldn’t throw an impressive Victory Day parade. The 1033 program, which sends military vehicles, weapons and equipment downstream to law enforcement agencies for pennies on the dollar, has shifted $4.3 billion from the Dept. of Defense to hundreds of police departments across the United States since 1997. Here’s what the President is actually interested in seeing.

“Among other things, the president has asked for a review of whether these programs are appropriate,” said a senior administration official, who was not authorized to speak on the record about the internal assessment. The review also will assess “whether state and local law enforcement are provided with the necessary training and guidance; and whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of equipment obtained through federal programs and funding.”

In other words, don’t expect much to change, and not any time soon (if at all). “Training and guidance” are just fancy words for mandated Powerpoint presentations and initials from all officers required to attend these sessions. There’s not much in here that indicates the government will start recalling equipment from over-armed law enforcement agencies. And as we all know, the government is objectively terrible at auditing itself. It’s especially terrible when it comes to entities engaged in drug/terrorism wars. Let’s not forget the Attorney General’s office has yet to compile its required yearly roundup of excessive force statistics… for the 20th year in a row.

We can also expect a whole lot of nothing considering how many government agencies will be allowed to meddle with review process. The full list (so far) includes a fair number of entities whose self-interest will far outweigh their desire to make the United States a better place for its citizens.

The official said the review will be led by White House staff, including the Domestic Policy Council, the National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget, along with the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury.

Speaking of the Attorney General: Eric Holder, who recently visited Ferguson, Missouri, made the following statement in nominal support of the review.

“This equipment flowed to local police forces because they were increasingly being asked to assist in counterterrorism,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement Saturday. “But displays of force in response to mostly peaceful demonstrations can be counterproductive. It makes sense to take a look at whether military-style equipment is being acquired for the right purposes and whether there is proper training on when and how to deploy it.”

Yes, “because terrorism” is the justification listed most often on War Machine Requisition Requests [Short Form]. The federal government is as much to blame as anybody, willing to oblige even the most paranoiac request with an explosive-resistant vehicle and a handful of assault rifles. But if you hand over a bunch of war toys to combat-ready cops desperately in search of a war, they’ll create one if the public isn’t willing to oblige.

Agencies cite domestic terrorism fears and then use the guns and vehicles for basic warrant service. Local SWAT teams, which are now more heavily armed than the military itself, are deployed for increasingly mundane tasks. And when finally given a reason to break out all of its acquisitions, officers roll up on the First Amendment in armored vehicles with gunmen on top and fire tear gas into/at crowds using grenade launchers.

As populist as this move is by the administration, it’s still preferable to it doing nothing in the wake of the Ferguson debacle. I’d say we’ll have to wait and see what comes of this, but I think we can pretty much agree that it’s more noise than substance. It’s been well over a decade since the US government decided fighting terrorism was Job #1 and nothing has really been rolled back since. We’re finally seeing some pushback against dragnet surveillance, but that’s something that has been forced on the government by a series of leaks, rather than a top-down initiative spearheaded by either of the two administrations presiding over US v. Terror.

Over-militarization isn’t a new problem. It’s just suddenly a highly visible problem. Inevitably, Ferguson will recede into the background and the President’s review will just be another directive that’s ignored or half-assed by a plethora of agencies who feel there’s ultimately nothing wrong with deputizing the nation’s police forces into the War on Terror and handing them equipment to use against non-terrorists. Let’s not forget that behind every self-interested agency stands a number of self-interested corporations whose main goal is to secure lucrative, long-lasting contracts. No one listed above has any interest in tightening their belts, being more responsible about the distribution of military equipment or dialing back the marketing of terrorism as an all-encompassing, existential threat.

The President isn’t interested either, but he had to respond to the situation somehow. And this is it: a highly-symbolic directive meant to address something the government only views as a fleeting concern, rather than the ongoing problem it actually is.

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Comments on “Obama Review Of Military Gear Handed To Law Enforcement; Thinks Real Problem Is 'Training And Guidance'”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Without a huge, sustained public outcry against such militarization (to the point it starts costing politically) this will not only escalate but it will also result in actual bloodshed. Even if the public keeps pressing there’s no guarantee things will change from this point on.

Also, get politically engaged in an unbiased way and bring more political parties into the fight. Clearly neither Republicans nor Democrats are willing to change anything.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Perhaps instead of offering them all the best toys, it would be better to spend those dollars on teaching them they are policing a community and not a 3rd world nation overrun with insurgents.

Just because it might hurt a contractors bottom line is no reason to find loopholes to allow them to find new outlets for their weapons.

Yes it might hurt your campagin contributions, but they are culling the idiots who keep voting you into office. A multimillion dollar reelection war-chest isn’t useful when no one is alive to vote for you.*

*(this does not apply to anyone representing Chicago, where the dead enjoy vast voter rights.)

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

The real problem is “training and guidance”? Has Obama lost his freaking mind? The real problem is that our police being militarized at all. Law enforcement should not have any kind of military equipment at all.

I told everyone this was going to happen a long time ago, that our government wants to establish military law in this country and this is just another phase of Obama wanting to establish dictatorship control over our own country and he has the backing of the entire Democratic Party who are encouraging him to do just that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The War on Terror is over...

“President George W. Bush, in an address to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001 said, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”[5]”


The exact Quote during the speech;

” Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. (Applause.) From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”

Maybe he said it again in a later speech a different way? I’m sure he said it more than once.

Anonymous Coward says:

Training and guidance (along with accountability) ARE what is most lacking here. Police abuse happens even without fancy military gear. Taking away the gear won’t fix that. Gear or no gear, police need to be taught to build relationships with the communities that they are supposed to serve. They also need to be trained in how to appropriately respond to a situation in the best manner possible. There is a place for SWAT teams on local police forces. They are necessary and appropriate at times. An under equipped police force is also not a good thing. (eg. N. Hollywood, CA 1997 and Austin, TX 1966) Still I see no justifiable reason for MRAPs on for a local PD. Perhaps they do need to be scaled back considerably, but still proper training and guidance is actually addressing the problem rather than taking the easy route and blaming the equipment.

On the other hand, can we trust that Obama’s idea of “training and guidance” is the proper kind that is needed? I’ll believe that when I see it. Still, you don’t hand the keys to a car to a person who hasn’t demonstrated the ability to drive responsibly and if they later prove that they don’t deserve that responsibility, you have to take them away. Perhaps we need to take away the toys until the police demonstrate that they are capable of using them appropriately.

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:

Chekhov's Gun

I think I’ll slightly modify the principle of Chekov’s Gun to this situation…
“If you give police assault rifles and armored troop carriers, they’re sure as hell gonna use them.”
The problem has nothing to do with guidance or training. The problem is that you’re giving cops, whose jobs are supposedly to apprehend criminals with minimal loss of life, assault rifles, and then expecting no one to get shot.


Re: Chekhov's Gun

The real problem is that is happening in a context that started with the most basic notions of policing broke down. This started with a likely abuse of a “civilian handgun”. This whole mess was started by cops that can’t even seem to handle the “basic” equipment. Never mind the “military gear”.

They need to work on the whole “don’t leave the corpse in the middle of the street for hours” part of their profession.

mayor says:

Local approval

Don’t forget that all of these grants/purchases are approved at the local level by select boards and town councils. No local rep wants to be on the record of being anti-police.

Citizens need to pressure local politicians to stop approving these items. At the very least, push back and demand to know why the equipment is “necessary.”

Our little town approves “anti-terrorism” anything… training, equipment, kittens.

AJ says:

Internal Arms Race

I wouldn’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist or anything, but I’m starting to get a little worried here. Between the government trying to ban semi auto weapons, high capacity mag’s, and various other types of weapons and accessories for civilian sale, and their increasing interest in militarizing our domestic police forces, I’m starting to wonder if they know something we don’t.. *shifty eyes*

Rekrul says:

Re: Internal Arms Race

I wouldn’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist or anything, but I’m starting to get a little worried here. Between the government trying to ban semi auto weapons, high capacity mag’s, and various other types of weapons and accessories for civilian sale, and their increasing interest in militarizing our domestic police forces, I’m starting to wonder if they know something we don’t.. shifty eyes

200+ years ago, Americans overthrew what was at the time, the rightful, ruling government. The U.S. Government wants to make sure that history never repeats itself.

See, the people who were unhappy with British rule back in 1775 were patriots and freedom fighters who should be praised. Anyone who is unhappy with the U.S. Government today is a domestic terrorist who should be squashed like a bug.

AJ says:

Re: Re: Internal Arms Race

Well, as a matter of scale, it was possible back then to make a change using armed conflict. Now, I don’t know. In 1775 we had roughly what… 2.5 million people or so.. right when war broke out, with 50 K casualties of war total.

Whats that .. 1 in 50 killed or injured? Somewhere around that anyway… We’ve got 350 million’ish now? That would be 7 million casualties?

If it ever gets that point, I hope we figure out a better way.

Jay (profile) says:

Two Centrist Democrats

You can just see that he doesn’t even care anymore. He’s trying to put out a ton of fires and they keep popping up because Obama is listening to the wrong people…

And this keeps happening.

Folks… Franklin Delano Roosevelt did all of this in his first two sessions of his presidency. Let’s make no bones about it. He listened to the conservatives bully, harry, and harass him until there was opposition to what was going on. To say otherwise is to ignore history.

Why are we repeating history?

We’ve had a Great Recession since 2007 and we had a Great Depression in 1929. You had a president when faced with opposition become far more progressive and work constantly to do a ton of things that either worked or failed. FDR closed the banks. He tried other stop measures by bailing out the rich. He did everything he could until WWII had him put 1/2 of the country in uniforms and the other 1/2 creating the uniforms.

We’re not doing that this time. Hell, I’m omitting the sharecroppers and other poor people left out of the progressive era or the rise of the FBI and CIA from this time period.

He had three main things to deal with while Obama had Occupy. Instead of embracing this fledgling movement, he crushed it.

Instead of turning back the police state, he pushed it further. Instead of appeasing his base, he alienated it.

He’s weak. Or he just doesn’t care because he has two terms and he’s getting out.

At this point, a LOT of people are pushing for Hillary and I can tell you she’ll be just as bad, even worse. Remember, the biggest deregulation came from Bill when he signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which allowed the banks to speculate with taxpayer money.

But Obama? Will be a footnote. No legacy. No integrity. All the promises are hollow. He did nothing but turn into Hoover and people expect the next president to do more.

That’s just ignoring the situation.

Folks, FDR had to face an organized grassroots effort to push his for reforms and eventually a New Deal. You know how we paid off the war? Taxes on the rich and corporations was at 94% And it has been going down. As it goes down for corporations and the rich, it goes up on people that aren’t rich. Simple math.

But let’s explain something…

For every dollar at the maximum level, the rich got to keep only $.06 with the maximum income at the time was $25,000 (roughly $300,000 now)

But now, they keep $.75 at the tax rate now.

And people want to keep lowering that tax rate now?

Perhaps doing some of the things that helped people before can help. Organizing, agitating, and pointing out the problems of society could help us have a better president. Maybe it can force Obama to care. But if you don’t put pressure on the president to be great, they never will. That’s the lesson learned.

Anonymous Coward says:

If I have ever heard a bullshit excuse to keep things the way they are, this business of training has to take the cake.

Ferguson went military ballistic on protestors because their Chief said use it. But cities don’t get this equipment given straight to them. The government only gives it to the country to distribute as they see fit. In most places, the county sheriff doesn’t hold his job for long; he’s elected. Sooner or later, they loose that office, sometimes the very next election.

So you’re telling me that these top officials aren’t getting enough training. How can that be accomplished when there is a turn over all the time?

No the real problem here is Posse Comitatus Act is being violated by turning the police into a military branch. They are no longer police with the attitude and equipment they possess. They are now the equivalent of an armed army operating inside state boundaries. But then when have laws ever been a hold back to the wants of those who hold office to break them?

Actually I believe they are afraid of the pitchforks. Wage inequity does not breed peace, it breeds rebellion and civil unrest. Sooner or later another Kent State is in our future, as it near was in the Ferguson matter. As the police chief made note of “It’s a powder keg” with a chief that doesn’t understand “show of force” and how it’s used. When you point a gun at someone, it tells them they are the enemy and by that reflection you the police force represent that enemy by default. This is why the police chief was removed from overseeing the protest. There are thousands more of these police chief’s without a clue. All it takes is one to light the powder keg.

Anonymous Coward says:

The most transparent admin at it again

So the most transparent administration in history is at it again. Remember, this is they guy who said he wanted a civilian army as powerful as the regular army. I guess by civilians he meant the police.

He is also the guy who ordered the police to close open air memorials, force elderly people from their home on federal land and forced people inside and pulled the blinds at Yellowstone when old faithful erupted. All just to make life hard on “the little people” during the government shutdown.

The truly sad part isn’t that we have presidents with a dictator complex; it is that they can so easily find people to carry out their ridiculous, unlawful, militant orders.

Rekrul says:

At this point, the only thing that might possibly provoke a reversal of police militarization is a full-scale bloodbath. Anything less than that and people aren’t going to get worked up enough to do anything.

Seeing the police act like the army and push people around only causes concern in most people for as long as they see it. Once the stories fade from the headlines, people forget and move on to something else.

And unfortunately, too many people have the same attitude as my friend; That it will never affect him because he doesn’t break the law or attend protests. It’s not his problem. 🙁

Eliza says:

I didn't get the same impression

This is not to say that I think the investigation will amount to anything significant in terms of “demilitarization,” but the order does say they will review “whether such programs and funding are appropriate.” Which doesn’t sound like only looking into the training and guidance of officers.

That being said, in the current environment, it is possible for them to rationalize even obviously damaging and unconstitutional behavior, as you say, “because terrorism.” So the government’s threshold on what is “appropriate” is almost comically meaningless.

This review is nothing more than a talking point for officials to point at when citizens express concern or outrage. It’s the wool.

But for once. I hope they prove me wrong.

JBDragon (profile) says:

Obama’s own words that we need a Civilian force just as powerful as the Military. What did people think that meant? Ya I know most of the people voted for him just because he was black. He has ZERO experience running anything and it shows.

When 9/11 happened, BUSH stopped Golfing. Obama, the world is going up in Flames. Americans getting their heads cut off, and he’s out golfing. Golfing with his old drug buddies. I wasn’t a fan of BUSH, but come on,….


YOU, You Obama supporters voted for this!!!

Tweak (profile) says:

Next step

The next step is pretty clear, folks. Look, Americans need to feel safe in their homes. That is the Number One job of The Government. With all of this surplus military gear out there and folks getting hurt, it is clear that the domestic police forces need more training and guidance. With so many veterans having returned home from foreign wars recently, especially those in need of work, why not use them to train the police forces in the proper use of their military gear? Gotta love Creating Jobs For America, right folks? In fact, just to make sure that we citizens have the utmost in Security, why not just station a militarized (and now well-trained and -guided) police officer inside each home? How Safe and Secure could we all feel then?

Besides, Posse Comitatus sounds like a sexually transmitted disease anyway. Nobody wants that.

nasch (profile) says:


As populist as this move is by the administration, it’s still preferable to it doing nothing in the wake of the Ferguson debacle.

That strikes me as strange phrasing. Do you consider populism to be a bad thing?

noun: populist; plural noun: populists

a member or adherent of a political party seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people.
a person who holds, or who is concerned with, the views of ordinary people.
a member of the Populist Party, a US political party formed in 1891 that advocated the interests of labor and farmers, free coinage of silver, a graduated income tax, and government control of monopolies.
noun: Populist

adjective: populist

of or relating to a populist or populists.

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