Friday, August 15, 2014

how this struggly little bleener ever get to play at "protecting and serving"?

cbsnews |  Washington lawmakers let out a collective gasp on Thursday after seeing startling images of police officers decked out with combat gear and tanks to respond to largely peaceful protesters in Ferguson, Missouri. 

While there may have been some looters and violent individuals among the demonstrators who gathered to protest the killing of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, the police looked more equipped to enter a war zone than a protest, liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., agreed. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement, "At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message."
"So much of the militarization of policing is fueled by federal programs, I think it's important for the federal government to take the lead here," ACLU criminal justice expert Kara Dansky told CBS News.

Already, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., has produced legislation that would put some constraints on the federal program that allows the Pentagon to give police forces equipment for free. Johnson's bill represents just one step Washington could take to address an issue that he's been warning about for months.

"Something potentially sinister is happening across America, and we should stop and take notice before it changes the character of our country forever," Johnson co-wrote in a USA Today op-ed in March. "County, city and small-town police departments across the country are now acquiring free military-grade weapons that could possibly be used against the very citizens and taxpayers that not only fund their departments but who the police are charged with protecting."

The congressman made note of the several towns, and even at least one college (Ohio State University), that have acquired Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles (or MRAPs) in just the last few months thanks to the Pentagon's 1033 program. The program was approved by Congress in the 1990s and has since given police forces more than $4.3 billion worth of property such as MRAPs, pistols, automatic rifles, and flashbang grenades. 

"Why is there surplus, especially when the Defense Department is threatening to cut jobs anytime Congress talks about defense cuts as part of sequestration or the Budget Control Act?" Johnson asked in his op-ed. "The primary reason is that we're drawing down from two major equipment-laden wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while some of this equipment is being destroyed in the war zone, at a loss of billions in American taxpayer dollars, much of it is now being returned to the U.S."

On top of receiving equipment directly from the 1033 program, police forces can buy equipment like drones and MRAPs with terrorism grants from the Department of Homeland Security. The department has doled out $34 billion in grants since the program started after 9/11. 

In addition to limiting transfers in the 1033 program, Johnson's bill would call for some accountability in the program. 

"One of the big issues that inspired this legislation is some of the smaller equipment, the assault weapons, were unaccounted for, they were given away to friends," Michael Shank of the Friends Committee on National Legislation told CBS News. "Just the accountability of these free weapons going to police chiefs and police forces was really problematic."

At one point, the office that oversees the 1033 program suspended the transfer of firearms to police forces because there were so many problems, the Associated Press reported last year, such as former military firearms being sold on eBay. In New York last year, lawmakers thought the job of tracking equipment from the 1033 program could be handled by an unpaid intern.

Johnson's bill would prohibit the Defense Department from giving any more equipment to an agency that couldn't certify the whereabouts of prior equipment it received. 

While Congress considers actions to reform the program, the administration could act on its own, Danksy said.


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