Federal action to reduce militarization of local police departments faces an uphill battle, Politico reports. Any campaign for less militarized and more heavily regulated law enforcement will be challenged by a deep set of entrenched interests that includes the unions and lobbying groups representing police, the Pentagon and defense establishment and lawmakers at all levels of government who are still wary of being seen as soft on crime. After military-like equipment was used in response to protests in Ferguson, Mo., afterthe shooting death of Michael Brown, President Obama ordered a review of the transfer of military weapons to police, and Attorney General Eric Holder said he was “deeply concerned” about the law enforcement response. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) will holding a hearing on the issue tomorrow. Defense and Justice Department officials, law enforcement representatives and reform advocates are expected to testify, and the draft witness list includes a photojournalist from the St. Louis American newspaper.
Federal grants have helped local and state police get $34 billion worth of military-style gear since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Center for Investigative Reporting estimated in 2011. Mayors, city councils and county legislators love the dollars that come from Washington in the form of used Pentagon equipment and federal grants and have worked to keep everything flowing. More than 30 law enforcement unions or police departments spent more than $2.1 million lobbying Congress and the administration last year and employed about 60 lobbyists, says the Center for Responsive Politics. Most politicians don't want to be in the position of having to explain why he or she voted against a program to bolster public safety. “We have police departments all over the country, including those in Nevada, who are desperate for more resources. And the mere fact that you have the equipment doesn't mean that you have to use it,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “You got to remember, every major terrorist act in the last 30 years inside the United States has been handled by a first responder,” said Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.