Thousands of Americans who hit the streets to protest the death of George Floyd may have come face-to-face with law enforcement who look more like the armed forces than local police.

The scene is a result of the US Department of Defense’s 1033 program that provides officers with hand-me-down equipment from military groups – for the price of the shipping cost.

More than $7.4 billion in gear, vehicles and weapons have been allocated to over 8,000 police departments across the nation since the program’s inception in 1997, according to a report from Wired.

The program has militarized both state and local officers that are currently responding to violent protests across the nation, as they arrive in armored vehicles wearing camouflage, bullet-proof vests and gas masks while touting shotguns and M4 rifles.

Congress and the White House standby their decision that turning the police into soldiers combats crime, but political scientists argue that ‘militarization affects the decision making of police by moving their preferences toward more violent responses to suspects.’ 

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Thousands of Americans who hit the streets to protest the death of George Floyd may have come face-to-face with law enforcement who look more like the armed forces than local police

Thousands of Americans who hit the streets to protest the death of George Floyd may have come face-to-face with law enforcement who look more like the armed forces than local police

Floyd was killed on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota when Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck until he lost consciousness – autopsies have since deemed the death a homicide.

Over the past few weeks, thousands of Americans and people around the world are protesting his death, along with advocating for the end of police brutality. 

The 1033 program, developed in part of the National Defense Act established, was designed to help the Department of Defense unload excess equipment to American police officers, at a cost of the shipping fee.

The Defense Logistics Agency (LESO) keeps a publically available spreadsheet of the items transferred in the program, including receiving departments, total cost of the item and its use. 

The militarization of the US police departments took center stage during the 2014 Black Lives Matter protest in Ferguson, Missouri in response to the death of Michael Brown – an 18-year-old black man who was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

A year following Brown’s death and mass protests across the US, former president Barack Obama signed an executive order that prohibited law enforcement from obtaining certain types of gear, such as grenade launchers and weaponized aircraft. 

However, President Donald Trump lifted the ban in 2017, allowing for the militarized police that are currently being deployed to cities across the nation.

However, Kenneth Lowande, a political scientist at the University of Michigan whose research includes the 1033 program, argues that Obama’s ban only applied to some 300 departments and there are no records that show these departments have received any transfers since. 

Congress and the White House standby their decision that turning the police into soldiers combats crime, but political scientists argue that 'militarization affects the decision making of police by moving their preferences toward more violent responses to suspects.' The dots represent police departments that have received transfers from the 1033 program in 2015

Congress and the White House standby their decision that turning the police into soldiers combats crime, but political scientists argue that ‘militarization affects the decision making of police by moving their preferences toward more violent responses to suspects.’ The dots represent police departments that have received transfers from the 1033 program in 2015

Lowande also told Wired that Obama’s order showed ‘no detectable impact on violent crime or officer safety,’ during the two years it was in place. 

A 2019 study, titled ‘Does Military Aid to Police Decrease Crime? Counterevidence from the Federal 1033 Program and Local Police Jurisdictions in the United States’, argues that providing officers with military grade weapons encourages them ‘to adopt the legalistic style’ of policing, which puts police officers ‘under some pressure to ‘produce’ more stops, searches, citations, and arrests.’

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The paper notes that a surplus of military equipment to police increase the probability of an officer is killed by civilians or civilians are killed by the police officer.

Ryan Welch, a political scientist at the University of Tampa who co-authored a 2017 study on the effects of the 1033 program on police violence, said: ‘Our research suggests that officers with military hardware and mindsets will resort to violence more quickly and often.’

George Floyd (pictured) was killed on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota when Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck until he lost consciousness ¿ autopsies have since deemed the death a homicide

George Floyd (pictured) was killed on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota when Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck until he lost consciousness – autopsies have since deemed the death a homicide

The militarization of the US police departments took center stage during the 2014 Black Lives Matter protest in Ferguson, Missouri in response to the death of Michael Brown (pictured)  ¿ an 18-year-old black man who was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson

The militarization of the US police departments took center stage during the 2014 Black Lives Matter protest in Ferguson, Missouri in response to the death of Michael Brown (pictured)  – an 18-year-old black man who was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson

‘Other research shows that when governmental responses are violent, dissidents and protesters are more likely to act violently at the site and in the future. 

‘Of course, that leads to more violence from the government creating a spiral that is hard to escape.’ 

Another issues that rose out of the 1033 program, according to political scientists, is that the Department of Defense does not train police officers how to properly use military weapons.

Jonathan Mummolo, a political scientist at Princeton University who focuses on policing, told Wired: ‘What programs like 1033 have done is given people the equipment to carry out operations that are traditionally done by tactical teams that otherwise would not have been able to obtain it.’

‘That is for sure not always accompanied by extensive training.’

‘There’s just a lot of variation in policing standards across the board.’

Mummolo’s research also found that militarized police are deployed more often in communities of color.

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However, sending these officers in has not, on average, shown any benefits of protecting the individual or reducing violent crime.

Mummolo told Wired that ‘militarized police are active in this country all the time.’

‘It doesn’t take a situation like we’re seeing right now to activate them.’ 

However, a group of lawmakers are working to unarm militarized local police departments.

Another issues that rose out of the 1033 program, according to political scientists, is that the Department of Defense does not train police officers how to properly use military weapons

Another issues that rose out of the 1033 program, according to political scientists, is that the Department of Defense does not train police officers how to properly use military weapons

However, a group of lawmakers are working to unarm militarized local police departments. Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz and Senator Rand Paul (pictured) seem to have joined forces to pass a new amendment to abolish the 1033 program

However, a group of lawmakers are working to unarm militarized local police departments. Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz and Senator Rand Paul (pictured) seem to have joined forces to pass a new amendment to abolish the 1033 program

On Monday, Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz (D) announced the introduction of a new a amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to end the 1033 Program.

‘It is clear that many police departments are being outfitted as if they are going to war, and it is not working in terms of maintaining the peace,’ Schatz told the New York Times

‘This is not the only thing we need to do, but as our country sees these images on television that remind us of some countries far, far away, it’s time to recalibrate this program. Just because the Department of Defense has excess weaponry doesn’t mean it will be put to good use.’

And he has one Republican on board for sure – Senator Rand Paul.

Paul has long advocated for the demilitarization of the police and has joined forces with Schatz in the past to abolish the program.

Paul’s chief strategist, Doug Stafford, showed support for Schatz’s proposal on Twitter stating: ‘We’ve been doing this one [for] years. Happy to help.’



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