The Pentagon’s 1033 program: giving free military equipment to police departments around the U.S.
By End the Lie
The police in the United States have been steadily militarized over the past decade to the point of absurdity, as recently exemplified by police rolling out an armored personnel carrier (APC) to the Occupy Tampa protests.
Benjamin Carlson of The Daily covered one of the more unsettling recent developments in this militarization of police, the Department of Defense’s obscure “1033 program” which has given away almost $500 million in leftover military equipment to law enforcement in the fiscal year of 2011.
This year’s total is more than double the amount of equipment handed out in 2010, which was $212 million worth of military gear, setting a new record for the program.
Included in this distribution of military equipment are: armored vehicles, like the one seen at Occupy Tampa and in towns and cities across the nation, along with M-16 assault rifles, grenade launchers, helicopters and even military robots.
Yet the 1033 program looks like it is getting even worse, with orders for the fiscal year 2012 being up 400% over the same period in 2011 according to data provided by the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency to The Daily.
If it keeps at this pace, that would mean $2 billion in equipment for American police departments in the fiscal year 2012.
The 1033 program was passed by Congress in 1997, which I found quite interesting as most of these programs have been pushed in the wake of September 11th, 2001, under the pretext of fighting the so-called “war on terror.”
However, even then, their justification was that it would be used to fight drugs and terrorism and since it began, over 17,000 law enforcement agencies have accepted $2.6 billion in military equipment, only having to pay for the cost of delivering the gear.
While the gear is practically free, the costs of maintaining the equipment and insuring it fall on the respective law enforcement agencies, meaning it falls directly on the taxpayer.
These costs can be considerable, given that in 2010 city officials in Tupelo, Mississippi considered returning the police helicopter after spending almost $274,000 in maintenance costs in only five years.
Considering that the helicopter was used only 10 missions per year on average, the cost of nearly 54,800 per year, or almost $5,480 per mission (not including personnel, fuel, etc.) hardly seems justified.
The Daily cites unnamed “experts” who say that the recent surge in acquisitions is just the continuation of a decades-long trend of increasing usage of military tactics and gear by domestic police departments.
We have seen these tactics and equipment most recently in the many crackdowns on the legal and peaceful Occupy Wall Street demonstrations across the nation, which were a coordinated effort as revealed by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.
The director of the Cato Institute’s project on criminal justice, Tim Lynch, addressed my surprised reaction to seeing that this program was enacted long before September 11th, 2001, in a statement to The Daily.
“The trend toward militarization was well under way before 9/11, but it’s the federal policy of making surplus military equipment available almost for free that has poured fuel on this fire,” Lynch said.
The Daily cites some examples of this insane militarization effort in mentioning that in Cobb County, Georgia, incidentally one of the most educated and wealthy counties in all of the United States, now have an amphibious tank.
Similarly, the sheriff of South Carolina’s Richland County is now in possession of what he fondly calls “The Peacemaker,” an armored personnel carrier (APC) outfitted with a machine gun.
The most absurd aspect of the 1033 program is that it is in addition to the Department of Homeland Security grants which allow police departments to purchase vehicles like the “BearCats” I covered briefly many months ago.
Various models of the BearCat weigh in around 16,000 pounds, are bulletproof and outfitted with gun ports, battering rams, tear gas dispensers and radiation detectors, among many other bells and whistles which police never use and never actually needed in the first place.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that more than 500 of these vehicles – which inarguably bear a remarkable resemblance to military tanks – have been sold by their Massachusetts-based manufacturer, Lenco.
This is even more ridiculous when one considers the justification utilized by police departments for acquiring such unnecessary equipment: safety of police and violent crime.
Why is this an incredibly ludicrous justification? Well, as the New York Times and others reported in May of this year, violent crime is at a 40-year low nationwide.
In populations under 10,000, the number of homicides dropped by over 25% last year alone, which totally nullifies the justification given by small town police departments who gladly accept this equipment.
Yet Bill Hutton, sheriff of Washington County, Minnesota, which has a population of 238,136 according to the 2010 census, purchased a $237,000 BearCat a month ago with a federal grant.
He has also obtained grants to purchase a 3-foot-tall $70,000 robot and a $75,000 riverboat and claims that the BearCat has already been used in a kidnapping situation.
He claims that the BearCat allowed the SWAT team to recover the victim safely while “Previously, we would have pulled up in a van, which would not have protected anybody or anything.”
Another official, Bill Partridge, Chief of Police of the 50-person police department in Oxford, Alabama, cited cost savings as justification for his pursuit of the 1033 program.
Partridge says that his department has acquired equipment worth $2-3 million over the past several years, regardless of the fact that his jurisdiction includes only 14,592 people according to the 2000 census.
He says that they have received M-16 assault rifles, infrared goggles mounted to helmets, four inspection robots operated by remote-control, not to mention a $270,000 mobile command unit and a “Puma” armored tactical vehicle.
Partridge says that his department is on the website trying to get the gear on a “weekly or daily” basis, regardless of the fact that it is outright laughable for such a small police department to have an arsenal more suited to a military unit than a small town police department.
This is just a microcosmic example of the larger trend towards turning our domestic police force, which is supposed to protect and serve, into a domestic military force to be used against the American people.
As I have previously pointed out, this is a move toward de facto martial law, which means that martial law would never have to be formally declared since the police could act as military forces instead of actually having to roll out the military.
Of course, S.1867 would erase that need as it would indeed spell the end of the Posse Comitatus Act by allowing the military to capture and indefinitely detain American citizens without charge or trial.
Furthermore, under 1301 it would allow any American citizen to be transferred to any foreign country or foreign entity, allowing for torture or extrajudicial execution.
Lynch of the Cato Institute, seems to agree with my assessment in telling The Daily, “[Acquiring military hardware has] kind of had a corrupting influence on the culture of policing in America. The dynamic is that you have some officer go to the chief and say, people in [the] next county have [military equipment], if we don’t take it some other city will. Then they acquire the equipment, they create a paramilitary unit, and everything seems fine.”
“But then one or two years pass. They say, look we’ve got this equipment, this training and we haven’t been using it. That’s where it starts to creep into routine policing,” Lynch added.
Lynch and others point to the many incidents of SWAT teams, which have become outright paramilitary forces, have injured or even slaughtered totally innocent people.
Take, for instance, earlier this year when a grandfather of 12, who was not even suspected of any wrongdoing, was “accidentally” murdered by a SWAT team member in Framingham, Massachusetts.
He was described by neighbors as the “nicest guy in the world,” and the search warrant was not even the targeted at the man, named Eurie Stamps, Sr.
Another example that comes to mind is Jose Guerena, father and ex-U.S. Marine, who was literally liquefied by a SWAT team that was carrying out a wholly unconstitutional search warrant on his home that was not directed at any particular person, made no mention of his home, and instead was targeted at anyone who happened to be inside the residence.
The Cato Institute has compiled a fantastic interactive map showing the disturbing amount of botched paramilitary police and SWAT team raids across the United States which you can find here.
From the few thousand raids per year in the 1980s, the number of raids conducted by SWAT teams has made a staggering rise to 50,000 per year in the 2000s, and with each raid there is the real possibility of innocent people being slaughtered for no reason at all.
Yet there are some – in reality far too little – in the law enforcement community speaking out against this trend.
Joseph McNamara, the former Chief of Police in Kansas City, Missouri and San Jose, California, said, “It’s totally contrary to what we think is good policing, which is community policing. The profile of these military police units invading a neighborhood like the occupation army is contrary to what you want to do as a police department. You want the public to feel comfortable calling you to report crime and supporting you in working against crime and coming forward as witnesses.”
“The idea that some police have that by being really super tough and military and carrying military weapons is a way to prevent crime — this is false,” McNamara added. “We have a lot of evidence on how to prevent crime and the major component is to win support for police, that we’re not this aloof occupation army.”
I find his choice of words to be disturbingly accurate. What we are seeing is indeed an “aloof occupation army” that is treating us like enemy combatants in a war zone and if S.1867 is put into action it will become an explicit reality.
Arthur Rizer, a lawyer in Virginia who has served as both a military and civilian police officer, also made a fantastic point in asking the following question, “If we’re training cops as soldiers, giving them equipment like soldiers, dressing them up as soldiers, when are they going to pick up the mentality of soldiers?”
“If you look at the police department, their creed is to protect and to serve. A soldier’s mission is to engage his enemy in close combat and kill him. Do we want police officers to have that mentality? Of course not,” he added.
Of course this is exactly what we are seeing, police thinking that they are somehow above the law or a military force that is there to intimidate, control and oppress, instead of protect and serve.
The greater trend towards militarizing domestic police forces shows that our illegitimate government is increasingly treating all Americans as the enemy, effectively turning the bloody military “counterterrorism” apparatus around and redirecting the resources to the United States.
Seeing how the so-called “war on terror” has affected foreign nations, I don’t think that any sane American who actually keeps up on the news would be comfortable with having that machine turned back towards us.