Demilitarizing local police

A police cruiser in Los Angeles. Thin Blue Line in action. Two cops lost their lives in a cruiser like this one, just for being cops
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A welcome trend has started in small-town and small-county police departments. They are giving back that surplus military hardware they got under the 1033 program. Many have found out it costs them to keep that hardware up, and plenty. But local citizens now also realize when their police get military gear, they become soldiers, not law enforcers. And that threatens their liberties.

Feds do local police no favors

Mother Jones started telling the story on September 30. The Ferguson incident shocked enough people into thinking twice about that hardware. Images of local police, in military-style vehicles, facing down the citizens they are supposed to protect and serve, stuck with people. It shamed the police in San Jose, California, and the school police in Los Angeles, into giving up their military surplus gear. (Or to try to. More on that later.) The San Jose police had true Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles (MRAPs). The Los Angeles school police had grenade launchers.

A Nashville Sheriff's Police Bearcat. Sign of militarized police.

The police of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee, owns and runs this Lenco Bearcat rescue vehicle. Photo: User Sdlewis at Wikimedia Commons, who released it into the public domain

According to Mother Jones, these agencies had enough trouble with that hardware as it was. Under the 1033 program, the Defense Department gives this hardware to the local police, free of charge. But: the feds do not pay for their upkeep. The local police or county sheriffs must do that themselves. And MRAPs, grenade launchers, Lenco Bearcats, and other such hardware cost plenty to keep up. More, in fact, than these small towns can afford. No wonder they find excuses to use that hardware. How else can they justify, or even excuse, all the money they spend?

But the Defense Department won’t let these police departments give this gear back. The Mother Jones piece tells the tale: a police chief, or local mayor, calls the 1033 office in the Pentagon. And all they get is the big stall.

This proves, as nothing else could, that the federal government did not mean to do these small towns and counties any favors. They wanted to place this gear around the country, to have it available to impose martial law. (The directive for that is in force and effect already.)

But now they might have help.

The Rutherford Institute steps in

John Whitehead, head of The Rutherford Institute, made his reputation defending individual religious liberty. Now he has taken on this issue.

A group of citizens of Nampa, Idaho, contacted The Rutherford Institute. They want Whitehead and his group to persuade their Mayor and Council to give back a recent 1033 program acquisition: an MRAP vehicle.

Whitehead sent this letter to the Mayor. He opened by saying a police department should acquire such armored equipment only with the knowledge and consent of the citizens. Then he set out some sobering statistics:

  • Any piece of 1033 equipment always comes with a hidden cost. And the local police department must pick up that tab.
  • Crime is at a forty-year low. So what does an average police department need with hardware like this?
  • Police feel they must use this equipment once they get it. When they do, tragedy sometimes results. ‘Innocent people, non-violent offenders,” and sometimes even police officers die.
  • Police officers today don’t die on the job any more frequently than do taxi drivers.
  • Last of all, when police get military equipment, they become “an extension of the military.”

For now, Whitehead recommended “direct oversight by elected officials” of the police department when, as, and if they get surplus military weapons and gear.

Leo Hohmann of WND reports that small towns and sheriff’s departments have managed to send back 6,000 “unwanted or unusable” pieces of equipment to the Pentagon in the last ten years. He also carried stories of Special Weapons Assault Team (SWAT) raids that go bad – particularly when they raid the wrong house.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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