Two Studies Show Giving Military Gear To Cops Doesn't Result In Lower Crime Rates

from the law-enforcement:-we-would-like-to-continue-to-define-insanity-tyvm dept

One of President Trump’s main goals while in office was to roll back anything his predecessor had put in place. One of his earliest executive orders removed the (minimal) restrictions Barack Obama had placed on the Defense Department’s 1033 program. This program allowed local law enforcement agencies to acquire military gear at almost zero cost — something that had been used and abused for years until the sight of an armored vehicle rolling up on protesters in Ferguson, Missouri proved to be a bit too much for Americans and their Congressional representatives.

Trump’s reopening of the 1033 program was based on a couple of factors: his all-encompassing love of all things law enforcement and some dubious research that claimed giving cops access to war gear actually reduced crime.

That was the point made by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions ahead of the rollback.

President Trump is serious about this mission. He is doing all he can to restore law and order and support our police across America. And that is why, today, I am here to announce that President Trump is issuing an executive order that will make it easier to protect yourselves and your communities. He is rescinding restrictions from the prior administration that limited your agencies’ ability to get equipment through federal programs, including life saving gear like Kevlar vests and helmets and first responder and rescue equipment like what they’re using in Texas right now.


Those restrictions went too far. We will not put superficial concerns above public safety.

Those “superficial concerns” included genuine concerns that deploying war gear against US citizens tends to make officers think they’re soldiers in a war zone, rather than public servants who need a solid relationship with those they serve to make meaningful changes that reduce crime and increase public safety.

The push for more distribution of military gear was backed by a study by the American Economic Association, which claimed law enforcement agencies that utilized the 1033 program were more effective at lowering crime rates. That data has now been examined by two other sets of researchers, and the conclusions they’ve reached contradict the AEA’s findings.

When Emory scholars read the studies, they noticed statistical flaws in the analysis. They set out to rigorously test those two previous studies’ claims by replicating them. They utilized the same 2014 NPR data and applied the studies’ same methods of analysis.

What immediately got the attention of the Emory scholars was that the studies were doing analysis at the county level, not the municipal level (i.e., the individual jurisdictions of cities). So, there wasn’t a way to directly compare which local agencies received SME and their specific crime rates. That’s because the federal government only reported the 1033 Program data at the county level.

Fortunately, there was more data available now to double-check the claims made by these earlier studies. Obama’s 1033 program reforms mandated more reporting on acquisition, which gave these researchers more to work with. The granular detail missing from the first studies was included in the second examination.

It was only after Emory used the new, agency-level data in analysis that they determined the SME didn’t reduce crime.

“It crystalizes so many of the concerns and claims both pro and con about policing in the U.S. It raises the matter of funding the police and how do we provide resources to the police — through money or giving them equipment. It raises the matter of police militarization — that the police look and act like they are soldiers at war against citizens,” [Associate Professor Michael] Owens says. “And it raises questions about efficiency — costs and benefits.”

It’s not just Emory researchers arriving at this conclusion. A simultaneously-released study by the University of Michigan professor Kenneth Lowande says the same thing:

I use 3.8 million archived inventory records to estimate the magnitude of sources of bias in existing studies of the 1033 Program. I show that most variation in militarization comes from previously unobserved sources, which implies that studies that show crime-reduction benefits are unreliable. I then leverage recent policy changes to evaluate the effect of military equipment: the Obama Administration recalled property under Executive Order 13688, which resulted in a forced demilitarization of several hundred departments. Difference-in-difference estimates of agencies that retained similar equipment show negligible or undetectable impacts on violent crime or officer safety.

Of course, these studies have drawn some criticism. Law enforcement officials — who’ve performed no research of their own — dispute these findings.

“This is just a symptom of the larger defund the police movement and this has turned political,” retired police Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith, a spokesperson for the nonprofit National Police Association, which educates the public on policing in America, told ABC News. “Obama took it away, Trump gave it back, and now we’ll probably see Biden take it away again so that they can say, ‘I took this away from the big bad police.'”

Wow. What a thoughtful counterpoint. On one hand, we have data showing handing cops military hand-me-downs doesn’t reduce crime. On the other hand, we have a police union rep claiming math is politicized. At least the other police union rep quoted in piece makes a better point while still disputing the findings.

Patrick Yoes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, also slammed the two studies as “convoluted logic.”

“It has never been the contention of the FOP that surplus military equipment prevents crime, but rather that such equipment plays a critical role in protecting police officers and citizens in life-threatening situations such as active shooters at large, civil disturbances, and natural disasters.”

But do cops really need war gear to make them safer? Crime rates in most of the country are still at historic lows. Officer safety remains at an all-time high. This last decade has been the safest time in history to be a cop and yet complaints like these are always offered up anytime someone points out the flaws in their logic.

So, military gear given to cops doesn’t reduce crime. And it likely doesn’t make officers much safer than they are already. What it does do is cultivate a warrior mindset that harms law enforcement’s relationship with the public. And maybe that’s all law enforcement really wants: more distance between them and those they’ve declared war on.

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Comments on “Two Studies Show Giving Military Gear To Cops Doesn't Result In Lower Crime Rates”

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Sadie Massey Chisum says:

Well, not unless they USE it! When let BLM and anarchists

literally run riot, no, it doesn’t lower crime rates.

A story today is that DC "BLM" which has been yelling "Defund the police" are now complaining that the police don’t protect them. And in Michigan, they wonder why police are leaving. Portland mayor now says crack down on the "red house" barricaders. — Liberals cannot grasp even so direct a connection, are just mystified when they want police…

ECA (profile) says:


Doesnt it depend on WHAT materials and goods the police picked up. Iv seen the lists of goods and it ranges from Everything for Business and Air conditioning To weapons and armor.
And Im embarrassed to think that Police agencies ALL have riot gear to Protect their Men/women. But thats not stood up very well, with some of The Citizen Killings, armed and unarmed.
I saw Lots of it at the protests, but never when the cops raid a home.

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

Re: Don't lie to ourselves.

If the police were held accountable to all the same "laws" that Americans are prosecuted for, the introduction of weapons of war into our police bureaucracy would have run the statistic off the chart. "Ex-Armed Service" should also automatically disqualify police department applicants, as many other aberrations do now.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Fractally wrong

"It has never been the contention of the FOP that surplus military equipment prevents crime, but rather that such equipment plays a critical role in protecting police officers and citizens in life-threatening situations such as active shooters at large, civil disturbances, and natural disasters."

Let’s see, protecting the lives of cops they’re all for it, but when it comes to protecting lives of citizens… not so much.

Shooters at large? That’s what SWAT is for.

Civil disturbances? Yeah, they’re violent enough with regular police gear, they sure as hell don’t need more.

Natural disasters? Fire department, paramedics, or national guard if things have really hit the fan.

You want to play with military gear or just don’t feel safe without it then join the gorram military, just don’t be surprised when it turns out that unlike US police the US military does actually have some standards when it comes to acceptable behavior.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
DNY (profile) says:

Do cops really want to be like the military?

I think if the police want military-style hardware, they really should be more like the military:

They should not be unionized.

They should undergo similarly rigorous training.

Their rules of engagement should be as restrictive as those we give soldiers fighting in counter-insurgencies, with similar consequences for violating them.

Police officers found to have wrongly killed or assaulted a civilian should be subject to as harsh of discipline as soldiers found to have wrongly killed a civilian in similar circumstances.

Being discharged from a police force for cause should be as dark a blot on one’s employment record as a dishonorable discharge from the military.

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

Re: Do cops really want to be like the military?

A person can go from average citizen to LEO in as little as 4 months. That’s 4 months to train someone in the use of long and short firearms, physical combat, non-lethal options such as tasers, driving, policy, pursuits, contested entry, drug enforcement, and many other facets of policing. This is not helped by their intentional selection of officers for low IQ.

The moment they put on their badge they are no longer required to know any of the laws they are charged to uphold, all the same laws they were expected to know intimately the moment prior to putting on the badge. They have free license to do whatever the hell they please and the courts will cheerfully back them up.

Mix in that a large percentage of police departments around the country are made up of ex-military and provided all the same military hardware and you get what we have today: An occupying force outside the law with no obligation to care about those their profession was created to protect.

There are no good cops. Start over and replace the entire system with something more effective.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well yeah

because killing unarmed citizens, especially black civilians, isn’t a crime.
In 2020 you’d think we’d be advanced enough to develop a non lethal restraining device that would physically prevent alleged “criminals” from shooting weapons at the police, so that police would rarely need to use their guns.
I guess things will change when enough white unarmed citizens get killed by cops.

Chris Brand says:

Even the better police counterpoint is wrong

The FOP argues that the important thing is that "such equipment plays a critical role in protecting police officers and citizens" but the quote from the second study says "Difference-in-difference estimates of agencies that retained similar equipment show negligible or undetectable impacts on […] officer safety."

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