Law Enforcement Agencies That Acquire Military Gear Are More Likely To Kill People

from the what-a-surprise dept

Correlation is not causation, but if you gear yourself up like you’re going to war, chances are you’re going to treat the people you’re supposed to serve as enemy combatants.

This is what police departments have been doing for years. The federal government’s 1033 program allows local PDs to help themselves to military surplus, which includes armored vehicles, armored vests, assault rifles, and grenade launchers. Cops have stopped looking like cops and started looking like combat units. The end result appears to be deadlier police forces more interested in shock, awe, and escalation than defusing tense situations.

A study of 1033 program use in Georgia by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows the more law enforcement gets from the military, the more often it uses deadly force.

A new AJC analysis of a decade of records across 651 Georgia police departments and sheriff’s offices found departments that took more than $1,000 in 1033 money, on average, fatally shot about four times as many people as those that didn’t. The newspaper’s analysis used the military’s database and paired it with a database of fatal police shootings from across the state, controlling for statistical variables like community income, rural-urban differences, racial makeup, and violent crime rates.

The results paint a troubling picture: The more equipment a department receives, the more people are shot and killed, even after accounting for violent crime, race, income, drug use and population.

Only 7% of Georgia’s law enforcement agencies obtained military gear through this program. But that 7% was responsible for 17% of the state’s killings by law enforcement officers.

As the AJC points out, this correlation is only a correlation. It doesn’t prove the 1033 program is responsible for increased deadly force deployment. It only suggests a relationship between obtained military gear and increased killings. Getting more gear does not increase the number of killings by cops, but the fact remains agencies that have used the program are involved in more killings than agencies that haven’t.

Whatever link exists is partially psychological. Acquiring war gear instills a war mindset. Citizens become “civilians.” Criminal suspects become enemy combatants. Neighborhoods become war zones. And the rhetoric used by officers and officials reflects this mindset. None of this warfighter mentality reflects what’s actually happening in Georgia. The flow of military gear has remained steady, even as criminal activity declines.

From 2009 to 2018, police departments in Georgia received $43.5 million in firearms, vehicles and other gear from the military, a figure that experts believe is deeply discounted because the material is used. All that equipment has been requested despite the fact that violent crime rates in Georgia have dropped by one third over that period, according to FBI crime statistics.

Some may suggest the flow of military equipment to law enforcement agencies has resulted in a better-behaved populace. But there’s no correlation between armored vehicles and lower crime rates.

A newly published article by a group of scholars with the Emory University Department of Political Science found no relationship between the presence of surplus military equipment and lower crime rates.

Fortunately, there are some in the law enforcement community who recognize the damage the acquisition of military gear can do to community relationships, even if those items may be occasionally beneficial. Calhoun Police Chief Tony Pyle says he’s limited his acquisitions and has worked at reverting the war-like mindset in the department since he took over two years ago.

Pyle said he turned down the offer of a $750,000 armored vehicle, despite the fact that there are dozens of them in departments around the state.

“It was basically a tank with wheels, I said, ‘Absolutely not. We do not want that thing rolling down the streets of Calhoun,’” he said. “In my humble opinion, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.”

Pyle said he thinks military-style gear and clothing can have an impact on a department. Along with shelving the M14s, Pyle said he ordered officers to wear traditional police uniforms, instead of the navy blue combat fatigues they had worn in the city for more than a decade.

Unfortunately, there are still far too many agencies cultivating an “us vs. them” mindset. And the nearly-free equipment and weapons available from the 1033 program are too tempting to pass up. The streets are full of enemies. It only makes sense to prepare for war. If more “civilians” end up dead, that’s just the price they’re expected to pay for public safety.

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Comments on “Law Enforcement Agencies That Acquire Military Gear Are More Likely To Kill People”

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Professor Ronny says:

But that 7% was responsible for 17% of the state’s killings by law enforcement officers.

This is a misleading statistic. If the 7% included say Atlanta and Macon, then they have a much larger population than rural south Georgia and you would expect more killings just due to their larger populations.

The more meaningful statistic would be a population-adjusted death rate of areas with and without the military gear.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Plus did the acquisition of military equipment precede and increase in police violence or did more violent departments acquire more military equipment? There are lot of possibilities to control for and no indication in this article that I saw that indicates that the controlling was done.

To me this like either terrible reporting of a study or a terrible study uncritically reported, which is also terrible reporting. Either way a major TC fail.

(Not that I in any way support the 1033 program – it is a terrible idea. A society where a police force requires military weaponry is, to me, a failed society.)

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: The 1033 program

I think the original idea was to see if law enforcement could use military surplus before handing it off to sellers for the private market.

But then it got weird when we had police in full camo with subdued ID marks (the opposite of what we want for law enforcement identifiers) as showed up during the Ferguson Unrest in 2014. We also saw SWAT go from specialist units that trained all year and were brought out for hostage-barricade situations (~500 sorties a year in the 1970s) to a volunteer service that one practices on weekends with 1033 armaments (and 50,000 sorties a year in the 2000s) which generates a lot of news here when addresses are mixed up or assault warrants are signed after unreliable informants are regarded as highly-reliable.

And then there’s flashbang grenades that fall into occupied cribs.

But curiously, once it was fairly evident the 1033 was turning our already shoot-happy police forces into play-soldiers, the program wasn’t discontinued, though it was allegedly slowed down some.

That ended in 2017 with Trump who embraces law enforcement as his private army (much like Hitler’s SS troops in contrast to the general wehrmacht). At that point 1033 became an all-you-can-eat buffet of military hardware.

crade (profile) says:

Tells us nothing imho

Such a correlation should be expected even if you assume for sake of argument everything is on the up and up and military gear is only purchased by police departments that need military gear. The areas that need military gear then are the areas with more dangerous violent criminals, which is both why those police departments invest in military gear as well as why more people are fatally shot by police there.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Tells us nothing imho

But that doesn’t account for anyone who is pro military spending is actually arguing.

I’m talking about controlling for hypothetical violent crime rates if the military purchase numbers were different. start with the assumption of the other side of the argument… that military gear helps make police more effective at controlling violent crime, so if you have two places with the same violent crime rate and different military spending and police kills, it could be because the crime rate would have been higher but the military spending helped bring it down to the same level.

David says:


Law enforcement operating in more deadly environments are more likely to order military gear in order to be able to defend themselves.

It’s hard to isolate cause and effect of what essentially is a runaway phenomenon.

In general, "$x is not working; we need more of $x" is an approach that makes occasional reflection on other effects of $x advisable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Correlation/causation

Could it be that some areas are more dangerous than others mainly due to an increased level of police brutality?

It’s hard to isolate, agreed. Let’s stop the program and see what happens … I bet the first complaint is from some business that was making bank because as we all know Profits over People.

Throwing money at it has never worked.

Kitsune106 says:

I am suprrised

that the thermal cameras adn snake cameras aren’t the most popular. it would let you see where the subject is. before breaking in.

When I larp and we are kicking in a big bad’s door, we are so hyper alert because we have no clue what facing, or where. If we know, "This corridor clear, be careful, here’s more." can relax. In the moment, unless super training, you will go with tehe flow. especailly at night when can’t see, and if the andrealine kicks in, say goodbye to measured responses.

(i still want to have a defense lawyer toss up a flash bang, and give his remark, then ask if they heard. and if complained at say, "the police say its non lethal and won’t cause issues. not my fault i trusted them."

Anonymous Coward says:

You mean someone besides me is finally coming around to the idea if you arm your police system with military equipment, have military trainers teach cops without a military background the uses of the equipment, that you are also going to instill a military mindset from that environment?

A lot of the cops that are recruited already have military backgrounds. Those that didn’t get that mindset from the trainers that teach them how to use the equipment, how to deploy it, and the military credo that it’s them or you. To instill that credo, if not of your group or an affiliated group then they are the enemy.

You don’t just go from overnight military into civilian life, especially not if you were in the combat arms MOSes. It takes a while to adjust back to the idea that not everywhere does the enemy lurk. I know what I speak of, having gone through that.

The idea you go home for supper, as enforced as a police credo, is very similar to ‘everyone else is the enemy’. Yes there are nutz out there that will shoot you. That is not everyone you encounter in civilian life. For the largest part, most folk are peaceful and military logic and thought does not fit into being on the block.

The widespread use of military gear in local police departments takes a side step around the Posse Comitatus Act by making the local police departments armed and basically military arms of the local LEOs.

What could possibly go wrong?

Upstream (profile) says:

Mindset matters!

Citizens become "civilians."

Cheers on this! The mindset difference between the two terms is important. Citizens have rights that need to be respected, "civilians" are just collateral damage waiting to happen. I have long railed against using the term "civilians" to refer to non- law enforcement / non-government citizens. Unfortunately, as an AC said, with the police becoming the private standing domestic army of the government/President, effectively making an end run around the Posse Comitatus Act, the term "civilian" is becoming more appropriate. However, I am not ready to go that route just yet. That mindset leads to insurgencies. So let’s continue to try to use "citizens" when it is correct.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Citizens

I guess for me, when we become civilians, the shit the police does to us become war crimes. Crimes against humanity. The things for which transgressors are dragged before the Hague, or Nuremberg.

Shit like drone strikes and torture.

I am really pissed off, but I’ve been this way a while, and it’s fermented to pervasive embitterment. It’s why I hope that every last member of ICE or even the DHS are eventually hunted down and brought to tribunal. (Well, those who aren’t lit on fire. Israeli nazi-hunters sometimes held a grudge.)

Maybe the US will become the new nazis, where politicians are disparaged by being depicted with thin blonde hair, where red hats are the new armband. Where the US national anthem will be the next Es zittern die morschen Knochen Maybe Godwin’s observation will apply to reductions to Americanism.

We should be so ashamed. We should be determined to do better, at least to not pull this bullshit again.

Aleric says:

Look at all the Leftist DRONES on here rambling about how they want to keep the Police unarmed and impotent so that Antifa and BurnLootMurder and destroy Liberal cities. This is nothing but ANOTHER propaganda piece to try and make the Millennial soyboys feel embolden to go out and terrorize normal citizens without fear of arrest or resistance. The SA did the same thing in Germany in the 30s.

A lot of police officers served, those of us who did know that it doesn’t matter what equipment you give a person, its what he does with it that makes it right or wrong. NOTHING the police have done is either oppressive or fascist. So keep these BS articles coming, the MAJORITY of the people know it for what it is………..

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Aleric you got to get with the times

I wonder if you’re a junior-high-school student who still believes the policemen are our friends and justice never ends.

Some of us found ourselves listening to different tune. But after all, we’re just ordinary men.

"Haven’t you heard it’s a battle of words?" the poster bearer cried
"Listen, son," said the man with the gun, "there’s room for you inside"

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