A senior White House official has said that President Obama will review the programs that allow local police to obtain militarized weapons and equipment. The Washington Post reports, “The review probably will include the Defense Department’s Excess Property program, which is designed to give away tents, generators, pickup trucks and all-terrain vehicles, as well as military aircraft, grenade launchers and heavily armed tactical vehicles. That program has distributed $4.3 billion worth of equipment since 1997.”
It is not known at this time whether or not the white House will investigate the grant program used by the Department of Homeland Security to give Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Trucks (BearCat) to municipalities across the country. Although we do know that DHS will take part in the review to be led by White House staff, and will also include the Domestic Policy Council, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, and the departments of Defense, Justice and Treasury.
BearCats, and other military style weapons, are given out upon request to police departments across the country under the guise of helping fight terrorism. However, in some locales these anti-terrorism tools are being used to serve warrants, or shut down protests as have been seen not just in Ferguson, but also during the 2009 G-20 protests in Pittsburgh, as well as both the RNC & DNC in 2012, and to a lesser extent in 2008.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder said, “This equipment flowed to local police forces because they were increasingly being asked to assist in counterterrorism. But displays of force in response to mostly peaceful demonstrations can be counterproductive. It makes sense to take a look at whether military-style equipment is being acquired for the right purposes and whether there is proper training on when and how to deploy it.”
During a recent news conference, Obama said there is “a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred.”
Those lines became blurred when the local police began receiving and using military equipment. Those lines are also blurred because the police are using equipment that the average person is unable to obtain. I don’t mean equipment that is too expensive for the average person to purchase, I mean equipment that the average person is prohibited from purchasing. The website for Lenco, the company that makes the BearCat, states, “all product information and brochures are… only available to Authorized Law Enforcement and Government Personnel and Government Agencies.”
One proposal for dealing with the militarization of police, that I’m sure will fail everywhere it is attempted, is to prohibit local law enforcement from acquiring military-equipped vehicles or equipment that is not readily available in an open national commercial market.