Documents Show No One In The Defense Department Is Doing Much Vetting Of Law Enforcement Requests For Military Gear

from the capitalizing-on-perpetual,-manufactured-fear dept

We’ve covered the Defense Department’s 1033 program several times here at Techdirt. The program allows law enforcement agencies to acquire surplus military gear at low, low prices in exchange for little more than their claim to need anything from filing cabinets to grenade launches to mine-resistant armored personnel carriers (MRAPs).

Thanks to the never-ending “War on Terror” and “War on Drugs,” the DoD has allowed law enforcement agencies to blur the line between serving the public and invading a war zone. Officers regularly don camouflage when rolling out of armored personnel carriers, turning warrant service into a paramilitary invasion. MRAPs tend to make appearances at protests targeting police violence, giving responding officers the appearance of an occupying force, rather than the domestic peacekeepers they’re supposed to be.

Multiple efforts have been made to curtail the acquisition of gear clearly designed for war zones, rather than domestic policing. None of those efforts have been permanent. The distribution of war gear to cops is subject to the whims of the sitting president and very few have felt too concerned about the program’s ability to widen the chasm between the public and the people who are obligated to serve them.

The Huffington Post has acquired nearly 1,200 pages of 1033 program acquisition forms via public records requests. (Unfortunately, it has decided the public will get to see them whenever it gets around to publishing them, which means it has provided no access to the underlying documents at this point.) What these show is the Defense Department rubberstamping requests for military gear (such as MRAPs) by law enforcement agencies, even when the requesting agency can barely demonstrate a need for the equipment. They also show law enforcement agencies consider the public to be their enemy — one that must be confronted with as much force as possible.

The 1,200-plus pages of documents HuffPost obtained expose the flimsy pretext that police will only use military gear in a genuine crisis — and how explicitly many police acknowledge that their goal is to intimidate vulnerable members of their communities. The requests also reveal how thoroughly many police have learned to fear the public as potential combatants, how automatically they are able to perceive everyday situations as potentially lethal, and how fervently they believe that their fear justifies extreme countermeasures for everyday conflicts. A few times, police departments even referred to their officers as “troops” or to police shifts as “tours of duty.”

The letters also reflect a disturbing comfort with — even an expectation of — using military gear and tactics to respond to civil demonstrators. Multiple agencies explicitly asked for armored vehicles to use at protests against police violence toward Black people and pipeline resistance led by Native Americans.

We’ve seen the ridiculous excuses used by law enforcement to obtain military gear. The town of Keane, New Hampshire (pop. 40,000 with a police force of 23 officers) claimed terrorists might target its annual Pumpkin Festival. A California school district was only persuaded to give up its tear gas launchers after weeks of public backlash. A two-person law enforcement agency in Michigan managed to acquire more than $1.1 million in military gear before the town caught wind of its abuse of the 1033 program.

These are just a few examples of what happens when no one in the Defense Department seems willing to vet agencies before handing out military surplus. The Huffington Post has more:

The sheriff of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, went so far as to assert that a police officer could die serving a notice of a civil lawsuit — and so his agency ought to have two armored vehicles.

[…]

One department after another described broad criteria for using an armored vehicle that bordered on cavalier: whenever police are going somewhere they believe someone could have a gun, even legally; whenever a suspect “could” become violent.

[…]

Countless departments pointed out that they were home to attractions and infrastructure that are essentially ubiquitous: turnpikes, highway overpasses, train trestles, a bus garage, hotels, a casino, hospitals and surgical centers, business parks, “abundant day care facilities” government buildings, movie theaters, amusement parks, county fairs, college sports tournaments, and minor league sports stadiums. Not one but two agencies pointed out that they should get consideration because their jurisdiction was located near the fifth-busiest airport in the Pacific Northwest.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is the expected result of the government waging concurrent, never-ending wars. Whatever isn’t consumed by one war (Terror) can be repurposed for another (Drugs). Since we’re in no danger of winning either of these “wars” (and, indeed, seem to be losing both), the federal government’s 1033 program has become a perpetual motion machine that converts failure to funding, ensuring neither of these resources will ever be fully expended. Very few people in power dare to ask the military what it’s spending trillions of dollars on, even when there appears to be little return on investment. And since no one’s asking them tough questions, those in charge of dispensing military gear to local law enforcement agencies feel no compunction to call bullshit on ridiculous justifications for war machines that will be used to carry out standard warrant service when not being used to intimidate people exercising their First Amendment rights.

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Comments on “Documents Show No One In The Defense Department Is Doing Much Vetting Of Law Enforcement Requests For Military Gear”

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17 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Reciepe for egg on their face

A lack of oversight plus distribution of surplus military equipment. How long until such requisitions get used for things which go beyond police brutality and into full fledged arms dealing to cartels, terrorist groups, and insurrectionists?

It may not be the smart thing for the buyers to do but how long until we start to see awfully symmetrical looking skirmishes with state national guards?

Anonymous Coward says:

And Techdirt pretends to know anything about anything

This article ignores that fast & furious is still going on, as illegals are still bringing in weapons and drugs. Law enforcement are helpless to stop it, because our president and vice president are in full support of illegals bringing in drugs/weapons, and sex traffickers. So this article is another obvious slander of law enforcement who are facing illegals with military weaponry supplied by the DOJ from the Obama erra and still going on, thanks to Biden/Harris.

So I guess law enforcement are suppose to go without the gear they need to face the obvious threat the Obama/Biden administration created. Yep, that’s Techdirt for ya.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

It's all coming together according to plan

Meanwhile the transnational white power movement has a total lock on the police unions. Police unions with access to military gear.

If there’s going to be a successful coup d’etat, it might be in response to the state trying to take guns and responsibilities away from law enforcement after a few too many pogroms.

We are so, so, so, so fucked.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: wasnt there one

So our military is getting RID of allot of Excess(???) for pennies on the dollar? And Citizens cant have any of it, even thoe it was OUR TAXES??
Even tho the corps CHARGE TONS of profit on these products.
The Problem NOW is the NEXT batch of wars, we are sending them over in Caddies, and MORE will die on our side.

Anyone think population control is a problem?

DNY (profile) says:

How about we really make the police more like the military?

(1) Forbid the police from being unionized.
(2) Give ordinary cops as much deescalation training as soldiers with police powers (MPs) get.
(3) Give cops rules of engagement as restrictive as we give soldiers in counter-insurgency theaters.
(4) Have cops who kill unarmed civilians in breach of the rules of engagement face consequences as serious as soldiers face if they kill a non-combatant by breaching their rules of engagment.
(5) Get all HR departments (including, or rather especially, those hiring for police and other public safety positions) to regard a discharge from a police force for cause as as dark a blot on one’s record as a dishonorable discharge from the military.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How about we really make the police more like the military?

I need to read more about it, but the lack of brutality and violence by MPs really strikes me as driven by the fact they are not policing "others." Could you link me to something that could explain the training differences in more detail?

Add to #3: remove chemical weapons the military isn’t allowed to shoot at enemy combatants from their arsenals. The cops in Washington are throwing a tantrum because anything over .50cal (including less lethal crowd control) is banned.

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