Under Section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997, along with other programs like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “Homeland Security Grant Program,” the federal government equips local police with military weaponry and battlefield-ready equipment.
Through these programs, local police departments procure military grade weapons, including automatic assault rifles, body armor and mine resistant armored vehicles – essentially unarmed tanks. Police departments can even get their hands on military helicopters, drones, and other aircraft.
The Defense Department has transferred some $4.2 billion worth of equipment to domestic police agencies through the 1033 program alone. On top of that, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) runs the “Homeland Security Grant Program,” giving more than $900 million in counterterrorism funds to state and local police in 2013 alone.
States can take action to nullify the practical effect of these federal programs by simply withdrawing from them.
TAKE ACTION: Contact your state rep AND senator – give them the three versions below (you can download each as pdf), and urge them to introduce the best one for your state. Find your legislators’ contact info at this link.
OPTION 1: ASSERT LOCAL CONTROL (Bill from New Jersey, pdf here)
New Jersey became the first state to address the issue in 2015 when Gov. Chris Christie signed S2364 into law. It bans local law enforcement agencies from obtaining military equipment without first getting approval from their local government. Currently, these military transfers happen directly between the feds and local police, as if they make up part of the same government. This law interposes the local government in the process, giving the people of New Jersey the power to end it, and at the least, forcing the process into the open.
OPTION 2: BAN ON RECEIPT OF SPECIFIC EQUIPMENT (Bill from Montana, pdf here)
Montana took things a step further when Gov. Steve Bullock signed HB330 into law, completely banning the acquisition of certain military equipment.
The new law prohibits state or local law enforcement agencies from receiving drones that are armored, weaponized, or both; aircraft that are combat configured or combat coded; grenades or similar explosives and grenade launchers; silencers; and “militarized armored vehicles” from federal military surplus programs. The law also stops local agencies from using federal grants to procure military gear still allowed under the law.
Law enforcement agencies can continue to purchase such items, but they must use state or local funds. This totally blocks DHS grant programs because the agencies cannot use that money. It also creates a level of transparency because purchases must now go through the legislative budgeting process. Law enforcement agencies have to give public notice within 14 days of a request for any such local purchase.
OPTION 3: BAN SOME EQUIPMENT, ASSERT LOCAL CONTROL OVER OTHERS (Bill from California, pdf here)
Gov. Brown vetoed a California bill that would have combined the two approaches, banning procurement of certain types of military weaponry, and requiring local government body approval before most law enforcement agencies can apply for any allowable gear.
AB36 banned any law enforcement agency from obtaining tracked armored vehicles, weaponized vehicles, firearms or ammunition greater than .50 caliber, grenade launchers, bayonets and camouflage uniforms.
While police could apply for equipment such as non-weaponized MRAPs or surveillance tools such as drones, most agencies would have had to get local government approval, giving people in the community an opportunity to stop such procurements.