Campaign for Liberty joins coalition against police militarization

Campaign for Liberty has joined a coalition of groups across the political and ideological spectrum in signing a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requesting a moratorium on the Section 1033 program. The 1033 program is the program that provides used military equipment to local police forces. This program has been a major factor in the militarization of law enforcement.

While a moratorium would be a good first step, Campaign for Liberty supports ending all programs that endanger our liberties by encouraging the militarization of the police force.

Text of the letter below and here:

Dear Secretary Hagel:

The undersigned national and local criminal justice, civil rights, human rights, individual liberty, faith-based, and immigrants’ rights organizations are writing to request that the Department of Defense (DOD) impose a moratorium on the DOD 1033 program as the Administration conducts its examination of federal programs and funding that provide state and local law enforcement with military weapons and equipment. As confirmed by the White House on August 25, 2014, this review ordered by the President promises to determine if 1033 and similar programs and grants are operating as intended.(1)

As you know, the unfortunate events in Ferguson, Missouri, in the aftermath of the August 9, 2014, shooting death of Michael Brown brought national attention to the issue of law enforcement militarization. As the nation watched Ferguson, we saw police respond to protestors with armored vehicles, assault rifles, and other military weapons and equipment. While we support smart policing strategies designed to keep our streets safe, the militarized response that we saw in Ferguson undermines police-community relations and puts everyone at risk. The country soon learned that such highly militarized responses were not limited to Ferguson. In fact, Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams have long been carrying out the so-called War on Drugs, though most often for low level drug offenses, in militarized fashion.(2)

Since the 1990s, the 1033 program has provided more than $5 billion worth of surplus military equipment to state and local agencies at no cost to those agencies, yet at substantial cost to federal taxpayers. During a September 9, 2014, Senate hearing, we learned that one-third of the equipment being transferred through the program is new.(3) Hearing witnesses also revealed a lack of communication and coordination between the Department of Defense and the other agencies providing funding to local agencies for military equipment.(4) Ultimately, the hearing raised more questions than it provided answers.

In recent months, we learned about other troubling aspects of the 1033 program. The Washington Post reported that our nation’s schools are subject to militarized policing, with the 1033 program having equipped law enforcement agencies affiliated with at least 120 educational institutions.(5) College campuses are not immune either, with at least 124 colleges possessing 1033 equipment, including grenade launchers.(6) And the Associated Press reported that the government has used the 1033 program to benefit certain law enforcement agencies, even though they were under investigation by the Department of Justice for civil rights violations, and in some cases, subject to consent decrees.(7) In one of the more egregious examples, the Department of Defense terminated Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office from the 1033 program for its failure to account for missing weapons.(8)

Additionally, several local law enforcement agencies seeking to return military weapons and equipment to the Department of Defense have been unable to do so. Some agencies have been trying to return equipment for years. One county sheriff’s department in Washington State has been trying to return armored vehicles since 2004 with no success. Some agencies pursuing returns in the wake of the Ferguson troubles have found that they can get rid of unwanted weapons and equipment only if they transfer it to another local agency.(9)

These latest developments suggest that a moratorium on the 1033 program would allow the Department of Defense to take stock of the program more accurately as the Department committed to do at the September 9th Senate hearing.(10) A halt on transfers would enable documenting of equipment transfers, both from the Department of Defense and among local law enforcement agencies, accounting of inventory, and otherwise assessing the scope and function of the program. A moratorium would provide greater room for solutions, rather than generate new concerns with a program that continues to operate without transparency and safeguards.

A moratorium on the 1033 program would not be unprecedented. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the entity responsible for disposing of excess property received from the military services, instituted a moratorium on weapons transfers in May 2012. The 17 month moratorium was in response to reports of missing equipment and inappropriate weapons transfers.

We urge you to impose a moratorium on the 1033 program while DOD is reviewing the program. A moratorium would allow for a proper assessment of a program that is fueling militarized policing and is in need of reform. We look forward to working with you, state and local law enforcement, and other stakeholders on solutions. Please contact Kanya Bennett, ACLU Legislative Counsel, with any questions or comments about our request.

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