Helena, MT (TFC) – Montana, New Hampshire, and Tennessee have become the first states of 2015 to propose legislation to limit the power of their out of control police forces. On February 18th, Montana and New Hampshire both passed amended proposals for police reform to their respective Senate review committees, while Tennessee has a proposal still waiting for a Co-Sponsor.
There has been massive public outcry against police brutality in the wake of Michael Brown’s death and the ensuing riots in Ferguson, MO. 1100 American citizens were murdered by American police last year. Already in 2015 there are more than 150 men, women, and children who have died at the hands of police officers in more than 30 states. The most disturbing fact, however, is that almost none of the murderers have been convicted. Many have not even been indicted. The few, who were charged, were quickly acquitted. Several states are calling for demilitarization of our Homeland Security funded and trigger happy police.
In Montana, Rep. Schwaderer has proposed HB 330, a bill calling for limits on what kind of equipment local police forces can acquire using the 1033 program. The program is written into section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Long range acoustic devices (LRAD), grenade launchers, explosives (including grenades and flash-bangs), silencers, tanks, and armored or weaponized drones would be prohibited from use by police forces. The bill also calls for a massive and extensive audit of current police inventories as well as strict oversight protocols. The bill was amended to allow Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to continue to be used.
The official figure reported by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) for dollar value of military equipment given to police since 1990 is $5.1 billion. The DLA is the organization responsible for performing oversight and compliance report on Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA). However, the official Executive Review of Federal Support for Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition reports $18 billion of funding for LEA since 2009. The huge discrepancy is the subject of continued investigation, and will be reported on here.
President Obama issued an Executive Order to review police militarization last summer following the Michael Brown shooting. The 19 page report was completed in December 2014. According to the report, only 4% of the property provided to LEA under the 1033 program was used for “controlled property,” which translates to about 78,000 individual pieces of equipment. The report says the bulk of property provided to LEA are routine things like office furniture, computers, protective gear and basic firearms. “Controlled Property” includes assault weapons, night vision, tactical vehicles and aircraft. The reports states that currently there are 460,000 pieces of “controlled property” being used by over 8,000 individual police departments.
In conjunction with the 1033 program, the Department of Defense (DOD) amended the NDAA in 2009 to broaden the categories for which police departments could classify military procurement needs. Program 1122 “…[expands] the program beyond counter-drug activities, to include equipment for homeland security and emergency response activities.” In addition, departments may buy equipment through the Cooperative Purchasing program, Disaster Purchasing Program, and Public Health Emergencies Program. You can see a list of the states participating in this program and the names, addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers, and email addresses of the states’ DOD certified State Points of Contact and the text of the 1122 program here.
Rep. JR Hoell of New Hampshire has proposed HB 407. HB 407 is a repeat version of HB 1307, Hoell’s former proposal, which was rejected by New Hampshire State Senate last year. Though rejected, it garnered major media coverage and inspired Rep. Schwaderer’s proposal. Rep. Hoell’s proposal refers specifically to military-equipped vehicles. It intends to “prohibit the state and political subdivisions from acquiring military-equipped vehicles or equipment which are not readily available in an open national commercial market.” This bill was also amended. Rep. Keith Ammon wrote in an amendment calling for a committee to study police militarization. The amendment was passed with the help of Rep. Hoell, Rep. Simmons, and the chair of the committee, Rep. Belanger.
Senator Brian Kelsey of Tennessee introduced Senate Bill 39 to State Legislature in January. Sen. Kelsey’s bill follows suit with those of Rep. Hoell and Rep. Schwaderer. It’s summary states the following, “As introduced, prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from owning or using certain military vehicles, aircraft, and weaponry; requires the divestiture or destruction of such vehicles, aircraft, or weaponry prior to January 1, 2016.”
Sen. Kelsey spoke of his concerns about citizen’s fear and perception of police, “Traditionally, America has had a clear separation between the military and the police to ensure we remain in a free democracy. I think we can support both our police officers and our citizens by ensuring that our police officers are not viewed as the enemy. This bill is an important step in that direction,” he goes on to say, “I will be speaking with law enforcement agencies throughout Tennessee about this bill. Drafting and filing this bill is the beginning of that conversation.”
Former Army Lt. Colonel and current Carter County Sheriff Department’s Chief Deputy, James Parrish, was skeptical about Sen. Kelsey’s intentions. “What he’s trying to do is provoke comment,” says Parrish, “I’m sure the gentleman means well, but we would be hesitant to comment on something designed to provoke controversy. If it gains traction, we’ll talk about it at that time.”
Another Tennessee lawman, Mark Sirois, Police Chief of Johnson City, a city of 65,000 people, voiced concerns about the bill affecting the safety of citizens, “Since certain vehicles are prohibited in the proposed bill, vehicles that we feel are of potential value to our community’s safety for defensive purposes in a critical situation, we would be at a disadvantage if we need the vehicles and didn’t have them.” Right. Because assault rifles, shotguns, handguns, concussion grenades, explosive grenades, full Kevlar body armor, Tazers, steel batons, rubber bullets, squad cars, swat vans, NSA surveillance collaboration, and complete judiciary immunity are not enough to keep cops and civilians safe in a township of less than 70,000 people.
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released their 2015 High Risk Report recently. This report lists programs and projects at risk of being vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse. The report states: “Congress and the Department of Defense (DOD) have long sought to improve the acquisition of major weapons systems, yet many DOD programs are still falling short of cost, schedule, and performance expectations. The results are unanticipated cost overruns, reduced buying power, and in some cases a reduction in the capability ultimately delivered to the warfighter. In March 2014, we reported that DOD expects to invest $1.5 trillion (fiscal year 2014 dollars) on the development and procurement of its portfolio of 80 major defense acquisition programs. With the prospect of slowly growing our flat defense budgets for years to come, DOD must get better returns on its weapon system investments and find ways to deliver capability to the warfighter for less than it has in the past.”
DOD’s acquisition of weapon systems was added to the High Risk List in 1990. One year after President George H.W. Bush repealed provisions preventing sales of US military equipment within the US. The report’s focus is not on dead citizens at the hand of cops using DOD hardware. It is not on the abhorrent amount of money being spent to acquire, develop, and sell sophisticated killing machines. Its focus is on how profit margins are not satisfactory. Land wars, Currency wars, Civil Wars, Cyber Wars, Drug Wars and every other kind of war is where our warmongering government and its corporate investors make the bulk of their money. You can read the full report here.
Although it is frustrating to see absolutely no police officers speak critically and publicly about the use of police force in America (and still keep their jobs) the recent flurry of police demilitarization reform proposals is a promising start to the New Year. Hopefully, these states will be the ones to set the precedent the rest of the US will soon follow. More importantly let’s hope the content of the bills will not be altered and corrupted by higher level government officials and used against the people they were drafted to protect.