from the give-it-away-give-it-away-give-it-away-now dept
Cops love military gear. For years, they’ve cultivated a mindset that pits them against the public in a war against crime — a “war” that justifies any collateral damage to the public and its trust in its protectors. The federal government has embraced this combative stance, handing out excess military gear to law enforcement agencies, provided they’re willing to say things about “terrorism” or “war on drugs.”
This transfer of military power costs nearly nothing (if you don’t count the public’s trust… and really, nobody in law enforcement thinks that’s worth tabulating). If you’ve got a self-proclaimed war on your hands, the only solution is war gear. And it’s all free — “free” as in “taxpayers’ lunches” and “from accountability.” US war machines march on, overly-outfitted by US military surplus efforts that give small town agencies a chance to play God of War on their home turf.
Now that the Russian government has turned seemingly the entire world against it, US police agencies are pitching in to help war efforts that don’t involve raiding the wrong address to recover minimal amounts of marijuana. Ukraine’s government has been asking for help and cops are stepping up to contribute. If you’ve already obtained it for free and found it’s far more than is actually needed to engage in local law enforcement efforts, why not give it to an entity far more deserving of US military largesse?
Law enforcement agencies in several states have all announced in recent days that they’re donating dozens of pieces of body armor, such as ballistic helmets and vests. Some of the departments and their respective local partners—one of which is a top defense contractor with U.S. and Ukrainian government contracts—say the donations will be distributed to Ukrainian citizens under siege by the Russian military.
Please hold your applause. Forever.
These aren’t agencies sacrificing gear needed by their own officers for the greater good. These are agencies giving away excess military gear they don’t actually need but were able to acquire because oversight of this Defense Department program is almost nonexistent. And, in some cases, what’s being given away might be useless, if not actually dangerous.
The Vice report quotes the Colorado Department of Safety, which states the 80 sets of body armor and 750 helmets being sent to Ukraine are “beyond life cycle.” Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, donations include bulletproof vests that are “no longer under warranty.” It’s the law enforcement equivalent of asking the poor to get by on donated cans of pumpkin pie filling and lima beans. Sure, the bags weigh a lot, but what purpose do the donations serve?
In other cases, agencies are donating military uniforms, which are slightly more useful in combat situations (and have no expiration date) but raise questions as to why law enforcement agencies have them in the first place. They’re not members of the US military. So why are they able — with the DoD’s blessing — to dress like they are?
While it’s true this military surplus will probably be both appreciated and somewhat useful, the donations raise even more questions about the Defense Department’s 1033 program and the seemingly-excessive amount of military gear police departments can acquire with little to no effort or justification.
And there’s no oversight of this transfer of military equipment, despite the fact it’s being handled by a federal contractor. No one appears to know whether this is legal or not and the Defense Department has flatly stated it has neither asked nor encouraged law enforcement agencies to redistribute goods acquired through its 1033 program.
That vendor is a Sarasota-based Global Ordnance, a defense contractor and commercial arms and equipment distributor, whose sales reached nearly $200 million in 2020. Along with its subsidiary Global Military Products (GMP), the company has won at least a half-billion dollars in Defense Department contracts over the past decade, according to USAspending.gov, the Treasury Department’s government spending tracker. The company also signed a “cooperation agreement” with Ukrainian state-owned defense conglomerate Ukroboronprom last September worth up to $500 million.
Global Ordnance vice president for human resources Carrie Morales told VICE News that the equipment wasn’t requested by the Pentagon, but that the company has “a lot of people in Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe” and that the donation is part of the company’s “humanitarian efforts.”
While it’s admirable US law enforcement agencies are pitching in to help stop an authoritarian from erecting USSR v. 2.0, these charitable contributions are highlighting questions that demand answers from the Defense Department and its downstream beneficiaries. Why are cops getting so much gear that they have no problem giving it away? And why are they still in possession of so much outdated gear — something that could prove fatal for officers who think they’re protected by the best the US military has to offer? And if these contributions fail to protect Ukraine recipients, who is at fault? If Congress isn’t willing to take a closer look at this, expect “caveat emptor” to usurp accountability for these well-meaning, but possibly harmful, donations.