Ken Klippenstein / Reader Supported News – 2015-04-15 22:56:02
(April 14, 2015) — Texas police obtained, free of cost, a “used” Humvee combat vehicle — with just 32 miles on the odometer. Ohio State University acquired a 38,000 lb. mine-resistant vehicle. These are just a couple of the bizarre acquisitions made possible by a controversial set of programs that has transferred billions of dollars worth of US military equipment to local law enforcement.
Under these programs, almost any item available to US combat troops overseas is available for purchase by local law enforcement — with nominal oversight. In fact, in many cases, training for these military-grade armaments is not required, and the purchases themselves take place irrespective of local government’s needs.
These findings and more were published in a scathing study by law professor Mark Denbeaux, the director of Seton Hall Law Center for Policy and Research. (That study can be downloaded here.)
With protests erupting in South Carolina over police killing of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, Denbeaux’s ominous report on police militarization may foreshadow what a response from law enforcement could look like in the future.
RSN reached out to Denbeaux for comment. When asked what kind of transparency is in place so citizens can know which armaments their local governments possess, Denbeaux said, “The only way you’d know about the local ones is if the local government agencies catalogue it.”
“There is no system. I don’t think towns know whether they have MRAPs [Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles] or anything else. I would be shocked if the citizens of Ferguson had any clue about the armaments the city had.”
The lack of oversight is remarkably evident when it comes to SWAT teams. “There’s a big question about what training it takes to be on a SWAT team. It’s not clear there’s any,” Denbeaux said.
“The real problem here is massive amounts of weapons and no controls. One reason there are no controls is they’re given away basically for free. That’s not literally true, but what they get is so vastly expensive compared to what they pay for it — and in a time when there’s all this fear — it’s hard for a town to say no.”
When asked to speculate on why armaments are given to local governments below cost, Denbeaux remarked, “Our defense plan is always to be ready if there’s a war, but if there isn’t a war and you’ve got all the equipment . . . you replace the old equipment with the new equipment, and then what do you do with the old equipment? 10 years from now, we’re going to be awash in this kind of weaponry. It’s not just dangerous, it’s also a huge expense.”
“I don’t think most of the stuff even saw the battlefield. I don’t think they’re getting shot-up MRAPs, it’s equipment that the military never used. They order â€˜x’ number of MRAPs every year . . . but each year there’s an upgrade, so what do they do with the model 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 MRAP?”
“One of the problems is the military has to have some way to get rid of its waste . . . One could very cynically believe that this is simply a way to keep the weapons manufacturers going constantly.”
Denbeaux’s cynicism is not unfounded, considering the staggering costs associated with the programs that arm local governments with military equipment. Consider the Defense Logistics Agency’s 1033 program, which has transferred over $4.2 billion worth of military armaments since 1990. Or the 1122 program, which allowed local police to purchase $700 million worth of military equipment in the fiscal year 2011 alone.
The modestly titled Community Oriented Policing Service (“COPS”) Hiring Program (“CHP”) shelled out over $240 million in just 2011 alone to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies.
These are just some of many astonishing examples of wasteful militarization that can be found in Denbaux’s study.
Ken Klippenstein is a staff journalist at Reader Supported News. He can be reached on Twitter @kenklippenstein or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.