Local Police Have $1.7B in Federal Surplus Military Gear

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Some state and local governments are blocking police departments from accepting used military goods through a controversial federal program amid clashes between protesters supporting Black Lives Matter and law enforcement, the Wall Street Journal reports. Last week, Virginia’s senate passed a bill that prohibits state and local law-enforcement agencies from acquiring military equipment like weaponized vehicles from the Defense Department. Connecticut approved limitations on the program this summer, and the Massachusetts senate voted for restrictions. Cities, including Madison, Wi., Columbus, Oh., and Pittsburgh have passed or are considering limits on what equipment police can acquire. At issue is the 1990s-era “1033 Program” that allows police to receive federal military gear to help with matters including counter-drug and counter-terrorism operations. That has included items like body shields, night-vision goggles and aircraft.

Images of protesters facing off against police armed in military-style gear have prompted some lawmakers to advocate to “demilitarizing” the police. Law enforcement officials say the program is misunderstood, saying the federal program has many uses beyond protest response, such as disaster relief and protection against mass shooters. Congress has failed to implement new accountability measures and restrict the types of equipment available via the program. State and local law-enforcement agencies possess about $1.7 billion in the second-hand military gear from the program. That’s almost 50 percent more than they held in early 2015, according to data gathered by University of Michigan political scientist Kenneth Lowande. More than 6,000 state and local law-enforcement agencies hold military supplies obtained through the program and about 350 of those have total equipment valued at $1 million or more.

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