Programs like the 1033 bill have helped with the accessibility that police have to certain military items. Some have favored the idea of police having military tools that allow them to do their jobs better. Others say that police have enough equipment and allowing them to use military items is excessive. In order to understand what police militarization is, we must define it “Police militarization is defined by scholars as the “process whereby civilian police increasingly draw from and pattern themselves around, the tenets of militarism and the military model.
” This process tangibly occurs when a civilian police force adopts the equipment, operational tactics, mindsets, or culture of the military” (MoStellar). The riot in Ferguson, Missouri is a perfect example of how police militarization was implemented. It is also an example of how public opinions can differ amongst people. Some people would say that police used excessive force to break up the riot. Others would say the police took necessary action to prevent further damage.
Beginning in the 1990’s, DoD has sent $6 billion in extra equipment to LEAs (law enforcement agencies) in the United States. When looking at the 1033 program it seems to be straightforward: When military equipment is not needed – anything from a rifle to a truck to a desk- they will hand it over to DLA for donation, reuse, transfer, destruction, or sale. Law enforcement agencies that qualify, can use the equipment to help in their efforts for enforcement missions such as, counterdrug, counterterrorism, and drug enforcement. If an local law enforcement agency does not ask for the equipment, it will then be given to other agencies outside of local police departments before it is given away to states, destroyed, or sold to the public.
As of 2018, 8,000 local police agencies have been given equipment through the 1033 initiative. Even though the list of equipment consists of many items, not all DOD equipment is offered to LEAs. For example, DLA (Defense Logistics Agency) destroys certain items such as specialized military aircraft, weapon system components, exclusive military equipment, and certain armaments.
Police militarization is defined by a combination of tactics, equipment and culture that focuses on conflict that that escalates to a high level of violence. In recent years, local police departments have militarized their agencies to various degrees, adopting tactics, weapons, attire, and structures that are organized for times of war. The effort for more militarized police departments is in part to an expansion of the war on drugs and federal forces that supplied local departments with money to purchase weapons and excess military equipment. Recently publicized statistics on military equipment disbursements have been put forth in some studies to figure out the effects of militarization on officer safety, crime, and police violence. But the data only show the receipt of items from one of many programs that help equip agencies with military equipment.
Most police departments have standards in place that grant the use of SWAT deployment in cases involving barricade, active shooter, hostage, or in “high risk” scenarios. But what is a “high risk” situation, well that depends massively on the beliefs of the police officers that involved in the situation, which can create confusion and chaos in time of immense pressure and potential casualty producing situation, affecting police officer’s judgement on use of force. In an scenario of serving a warrant that may be “high risk” in the presence of someone who is armed and dangerous, there is no categorized information in SWAT that produces any evidence as to what to do. Even in situations in which police believe that there is an armed suspect, often there was a lack of information of policy for SWAT members
Additionally, state government and municipalities should make restraining policies on the frequency and use of SWAT. SWAT should have a limited amount of way agents can act in specific situations for which the state legislatures should create meaningful restraints on certain kinds of scenarios that aggressive measures where intended for such as active shooter, hostage, or barricade. Rather than allowing SWAT members to determine what they think is the right thing to, and avoid media and public backlash, it would be better to have rules in place for these specific scenarios so that officers know how to correctly act when the time comes.
SWAT teams should never be allowed to be deployed on probable cause to think that drugs are present, even if they have a search warrant for the home. Also, Swat teams should not think that just because someone is in possession of drugs means that have an intent of violence. SWAT in cases of warrant service is allowed only if police can show, before they deploy, that regular law enforcement officers cannot execute a warrant safely without there being a danger of an imminent threat. Making these decisions is important, especially when since the use of a SWAT team can make things more hostile than what they need to be. Law enforcement should take caution to avoid the engaging of SWAT whenever it can. Also, all SWAT teams should be proportional to the number of potential hostiles in the area—not all situations need 20 heavily armed officers in an armored vehicle. Local law enforcement agencies should create their own policies that restrain and avoid the use of excessive force in a unnecessary situation.
The incident in 2014 of shooting causing the death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri, cop and the physical response to riots and protests led to criticism of the police militarization program. Although no Military equipment was involved when dealing with the riots and protests, having armored police officers made public attention focus on the use of military equipment by law enforcement and the relationship between equipment that was demilitarized by the DoD. Some people criticized that the use of military equipment as evidence that local law enforcement is becoming more like a local Army. However, some said that the reuse of DoD items was worth the use of taxpayer money and that it valuable to officer and safety. People in support of the 1033 bill, including organizations such as the Police Foundation, and the National Tactical Officers Association, argue that the materials used in the Ferguson riots protected the police officers that day. However, the use of this type of equipment comes with a certain amount of appropriateness and it depends on the quality of police training and the context it is used in.
In response with the events following Ferguson and after much study, President Obama released an Executive order that separated military equipment into three categories: controlled, uncontrolled, and prohibited. Controlled items consist of unmanned aerial vehicles, riot batons, fixed and rotary wing aircraft, and wheeled armored vehicles. Controlled equipment is created to reduce risk for both officers and citizens. State coordinators often state that MRAPS (Mind- Resistant-Ambush-Protected) are used during rescue operations, active-shooter response or bomb threats, and the use of thermal imagining equipment in order to see hidden victims and subjects. Coordinators that are recognized by the state take careful steps to make sure equipment that is requested through the program is being used for law enforcement tasks.
Through careful review of justification in written documentation and conducting thorough interviews of police operators, state governments can ensure the public that the equipment that is being tasked out to their local law enforcement agencies is being used for its correct purpose. Jurisdictions responses following the mayhem that happened in Ferguson is an example of problems with the military development of police: infringing upon federalism and a lack of regulation by the citizens law enforcement is supposed to serve and protect. For instance, in order to gain equipment through the 1033 initiative, law enforcement agencies send to local state coordinators in their jurisdictions. This enables law enforcement agencies to have military items, purchased with tax payer dollars, without any review by local lawmakers. The current state of the 1033 initiative allows law enforcement agencies to work around the regular principles of federalism in order to avoid the process that is meant to protect the people from unjustly government spending.
Uncontrolled items such as hand and power tools, first aid equipment, and filing cabinets and desks. Prohibited items include aircraft with weapons, grenade launchers, camouflage uniforms, and tracked armored vehicles. Under this new policy, if an LEA wants to gather controlled equipment, it must have a valid reason for need of it. It must provide documentation of having training on the proper use of the equipment, as well as on how it might infringe on civil liberties, and civil rights. It is also required, to have approval from a civilian body of government in its local areas. Most of the items that are restricted on the list were already not legally in use before Obama’s policy (e.g., camouflage personal protective equipment, tracked vehicles, and bayonets). When questioned, certain staff LESO staff members stated that there was little change with operations or with the items that LEAs gained from the program.
Increased militarization of cops has happened along with a huge decline in the trust of the public trust for local law enforcement agencies. The public continues to respect their local law enforcement agencies, while confidence and trust in law enforcement have gone down since the early 2000’s. In a national poll from 2016, a massive number of Americans have said that they think the use of military items by local law enforcement is “going to far.” The same poll also showed that most Americans think that police should have to be required to have a warrant before being able to conduct a search on homes, vehicles, or any other type of private property. The discord of public opinion of law enforcement and poor support for militarization of police officers negatively affects local departments ability to effectively work in their community.
American culture needs to evolve past the failed war on drugs, and police need to stop thinking the people who live in the areas they patrol as enemies. This reformation can only be achieved systemically, and it has to include a transformation within police culture; problems with excessive policing cannot be fixed by disciplining a few police officers or excusing the problem by saying it was a accident. These recommendations are supposed to ensure that law enforcement help with minimizing damage done to civilians and their property and to increase safety as oppose to hurt everyone involved. The federal government should take control by creating programs that teach local law enforcement agencies when to use necessary use of force. The federal government controls all funding and restricting federal money and military equipment into state and localities, would make a huge impact in the use of hyper-aggressive tactics and military items.
Creating conclusions about the effects of militarization on the safety of the public and police use of power is hard because there is a limited amount of research that has been conducted about this issue, since police have been receiving military equipment in the past couple of years. There was a study from 2017 that found that for the increase in the value of military equipment received by a county result in fewer crimes per. But, when observing the issue from a military grade operating perspective, the same study found that the receival of those weapons has little effect on crime. Numerous studies have reinforced concerns about the development of police, showing that it has negative effects with how police use unnecessary force against citizens. Certain police militarization statistics seem to show that using certain items of military equipment may reduce crime within certain areas but increased force by local law enforcement.
In addition to, rules that help the recipient of the property under the 1033 program create benefits for local police agencies to ensure that they can keep the items for their agencies use. First, In the first year of ownership of property, local agencies must use the item acquired through the 1033 program, otherwise the local agency will have to return the items that were acquired through the program back to the Department of Defense. Secondly, local agencies oversee making sure the use of the items are being used responsibly such maintenance, transportation, and the conversion of costs of the equipment. Although the cost of equipment is zero, the cost of training, fuel, storage, insurance, and expense of converting certain items to law enforcement standards is costly. In cases, the costs can be overbearing for some local agencies to rectify being able to keep the items if it is not being put to good use on a daily basis. This creates a benefit for the local agencies to use the equipment in specific cases where it may not be reasonable to justify its placement by the agency. It also helps officers to move resources away from grabbing criminals who are the biggest issue to public safety to certain activities that will bring in financial benefits for the police department through seizure of property that is tied to low-level drug possession.
The increase of militarized police can also change the quality of recruit candidates for law enforcement agencies. Police departments around the country have been criticized in the past for creating videos that show SWAT raids and use of military equipment. This reinforces un productive ideas in minds of police officers and can attract potential candidates with an attitude which are looking forward to using military items against civilians. This will negatively effect relationships within communities, hurting the chances of police officers to build community bonds.
People in favor of police militarization frequently say that increasing number of gangs and cartels has created a situation where police must use more sophisticated and deadly weapons by criminals, creating more heavily armed officers. Even though research has shown that gang participation and activity has gone up, there is no evidence to support that more dangerous weapons are being used by cartels and gangs.
Close to 75 percent of murders that happened in 2016 consisted of either a handgun or a non-firearm weapon other than an explosive device. FBI’S Uniform Crime Reporting Program showed that the amount of murders that happened with a firearm between 1994 and 2016 went down over 32 percent. The amount of aggravated assaults and robberies that had a firearm involved went down more than 40 percent over the same number of years. Guns such as AR 15’s, or semi-automatic weapons with military similarities, are used in a small number of crimes. One study from 2017 found that semi-automatic weapons create a as little as 2 percent of the weapons used in crimes. Even though, we want our local police officers to go home safely, it is not the situation that the criminals creating acts of violence are using more hostile weapons during those acts.
In conclusion, police militarization must be regulated. Local police departments must regulate the use of force when identifying the need to use force that is equal to the threat that they are facing. The use of military equipment must be overseen by a formal government to ensure that the use of all equipment is being conducted properly. In cases of SWAT deployments excessive force has been an issue that can possible worsen the more equipment that local police department have to certain items in the 1033 bill.
Additionally, for people safety and for public and police relationship to function properly, people must know that local law enforcement has their best intentions at the top of their priority. With police becoming more like a military fighting force, people can grow uneasy of police in their local communities, creating discord and violence, as seen with the riots in Ferguson. Without public support police departments are not capable of doing their jobs, which in return gives more violence to local areas. If police are to continue in the act of obtaining more military equipment, people in the local area must be able to see how it can benefit their safety, creating an environment in which kids, and the elderly can go about their day to day lives, instead of living in fear.