The how and the why of America’s Militarized Police Forces begins with the Department of Defense Excess Property Program (1033 Program). This is authorized under federal law and managed through the Defense Logistics Agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO), in Ft. Belvoir, Va. The Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO), facilitates the 1033 program, which originated from the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 1997 (FY 97). This law allows transfer of excess Department of Defense property that might otherwise be destroyed to law enforcement agencies across the United States and its territories. Nationwide, 1033 program has transferred more than $5.1 billion worth of property. In 2013, $450 million worth of property (based on initial acquisition cost) was transferred to law enforcement agencies (Defense Logistics Agency, 2014).
The 1033 Program provides surplus DOD military equipment to state and local civilian law enforcement agencies for use in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism operations, and to enhance officer safety. 1033 procurements are not matters of public record. And the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which coordinates distribution of military surplus, refuses to reveal the names of agencies requesting “tactical” items, like assault rifles and MRAPs — for security reasons. Requisitions cover the gamut of items used by America’s military — clothing and office supplies, tools and rescue equipment, vehicles, rifles and others small arms. These types of items issued in the past to participating agencies are aircraft (both fixed wing and rotary) and four-wheel drive vehicles (such as pickup trucks, blazers, ambulances and armored personnel carriers). The ambulances are used for mobile command vehicles and search warrant entry teams. The armored personnel carriers are used for S.W.A.T. teams along with victim and officer recovery. Ballistic helmets and vests are issued for officer safety. BDU clothing (including Nomex fire retardant), boots, wet weather and cold weather clothing, canteens, and web belts are some of the types of field gear items issued for marijuana eradication. Binoculars, radios, camcorders, and TV/VCR combinations are used for tactical and intelligence gathering operations. Information technology equipment such as desktop and laptop computers, printers, and servers have also been issued. Any state or local law enforcement agency may participate in the DOD program. More than 8,000 law enforcement agencies have enrolled in the program (Defense Logistics Agency, 2014).
So, now that we know the how and why more than 8,000 law enforcement agencies have acquired all this military gear. We can now explore the consequences of our police forces becoming militarized. First off we have to understand that any police force that is geared up like a military has to train with said gear and the saying “train like you fight” comes into play. Police officers that train like a domestic military force will act and react like said forces. For instance the ACLU, a noted liberal organization, conducted a 2014 report called War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing that enumerated vast violations of rights and flagrant use of excessive force by police forces across the nation. Police forces have become excessively militarized through the use of weapons and tactics designed for the battlefield and unfairly impacts citizens and undermines individual liberties (American Civil Liberties Union, 2014).
Now let’s look at the outward results of militarized police forces by deaths while in custody. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, Statistics in Arrest-Related Deaths (ARD) program is a national accounting of persons who die either during the process of arrest or while in the custody of state or local law enforcement personnel. The site breaks down the statistics in multiple categories. An “arrest-related” death is defined as; one that occurs anytime a person’s freedom to leave is restricted by state or local law enforcement personnel. Arrest-related deaths can occur before law enforcement personnel establish physical custody or before a formal arrest process is initiated. The arrest related death collection also includes the deaths of individuals who die while attempting to elude police during the course of apprehension (e.g., police chases, and standoffs). Arrest-related deaths, 2003-2009 were more than 4,800. Deaths reported to the program include those caused by any use of force by state or local law enforcement personnel, as well as those not directly related to actions of law enforcement, such as deaths attributed to suicide, intoxication, accidental injury, and illness or natural causes. With the exception of innocent bystanders, hostages, and law enforcement personnel, all persons who die in the presence of state or local law enforcement, regardless of manner of death, are subject for inclusion in the program.
A total of 4,813 deaths were reported to the Arrest-Related Deaths program from January 2003 through December 2009. Of reported arrest-related deaths, 61% (2,931) were classified as homicides by law enforcement personnel, 11% (541) were suicides, 11% (525) were due to intoxication, 6% (272) were accidental injuries, and 5% (244) were attributed to natural causes. State and local law enforcement agencies employing 100 or more full-time sworn personnel accounted for 75% of the 4,813 arrest-related deaths reported during 2003-2009. Race and Ethnicity; 42% of persons were white, 32% were black, and 20% were Hispanic. More than half (55%) of all persons who died during the process of arrest were between the ages of 25 and 44. Homicide by law enforcement personnel accounted for 2,931(61%) of reported arrest-related deaths (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2015).
Although all cannot be definitively labeled as police brutality, we can only guess because the numbers are voluntarily reported and often when reported are not given with explanations (Johnson, http://www.usatoday.com, 2014). Data has not been updated on the Bureau of Justice Statistics site since 2009. Some reports done by investigative journalist state that from 2010-2014 police related deaths of civilians reached nearly 5,000. Let’s compare some numbers here, between the years of 2004-2013, 511 local and state officers were feloniously killed and 636 officers were accidentally killed in the line of duty (FBI National Press Office, 2014). Most of these officers dies in car accidents and were mostly due to excessive speed and poor road conditions due to weather. As we see the numbers don’t add up, 4800 plus civilians are dead due to officer involvement and less than 1200 officer deaths in a longer time frame and largely car accidents. 27 police officers were killed in 2013 while 400 civilians were killed in 2013(Nakashima, 2014). Independent researchers such as journalists and criminal justice academics, insist the number of people shot and killed by police officers each year is consistently upwards of 1,000 each year.
Given the facts about America’s militarized police forces proved here, one can only surmise our nation has fallen into a Police State mentality. Step one in the correction could be elimination of the 1033 program and the return our all acquired equipment to the DOD warehouses. Systematic retraining of officers to “Protect and Serve” status of old and external investigation of every officer related shooting, no longer allowing departments to investigate their own. And active prosecution of all officers involved in shootings deemed suspect by independent investigators. We the people, give our police departments operation budgets and can take those budgets away.
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Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2015, January ). Retrieved from www.bjs.gov: http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=82
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