Since the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer, when many observers accused local law enforcement’s heavy weaponry of inciting violence rather than quieting it, the American public and legislators have been debating whether an influx of advanced weaponry to local police is really making our communities safer.
In addition to the Department of Homeland Security program to combat terrorism, which supplied Keene’s BearCat, the Pentagon is funneling military equipment directly to the states through something called the 1033 program. According to an analysis by Jake Grovum at the Pew Charitable Trusts Stateline blog, the 50 states together now have nearly $1.7 billion worth of military equipment, an average value of nearly $34 million per state.
The map below, created by the Stateline blog, shows where these funds have gone in the per capita dollar value of equipment. Tennessee, New Mexico, Alabama and Florida have received the most surplus military equipment on a per capita basis, while states like Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina and Minnesota have received relatively little. (Visit Pew's site for an interactive version.)
Military personnel claim that only a small proportion of the equipment is weaponry. In addition to mine-resistant vehicles, grenade launchers, rifles, night vision goggles and helicopters, the equipment includes plenty of mundane stuff -- office supplies, shelving, communications gear, exercise equipment, appliances, even mittens. “…95 percent of the property that is transferred to local law enforcement through this program is not tactical. It's not -- it's not weapons. It's shelving, office equipment, communications gear, that kind of thing – furniture,” says Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby.
The program is popular among police, who have called the program a valuable resource in combating criminals with more powerful weaponry and improving the safety of law enforcement officers. But the main issue with these programs is that they don’t require any input, approval or oversight from state legislatures. Local agencies make requests through a designated state coordinator, and don’t require approval or oversight from state legislatures, says Grovum.
Lawmakers from both parties have introduced legislation to try rein in this militarization, according to Pew Charitable Trusts. Minnesota, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Tennesse and Vermont have considered similar efforts.