Nebraska Sen. Ernie Chambers talks about police abuse on our streets. See the video above.
Police in Minneapolis-St. Paul trained military-grade launchers and used flash bang and tear gas grenades on protesters at the 2008 Republican National Convention. The Richland County, South Carolina, Sheriff’s Department got an armored personnel carrier to help fight drug and gambling crime. And Ohio State University police acquired a 19-ton armored truck that can withstand mine blasts.
These are just a few examples of the growing militarization of police in America.
“You get these pictures that just shock the conscience,” said Republican state Sen. Branden Petersen of Minnesota, referring to news footage of heavily armed police patrolling streets or carrying out sting operations. His bill would bar law enforcement in the state from accepting gear that’s “designed to primarily have a military purpose or offensive capability.”
But Petersen and those backing similar efforts in other states — they’ve come up in California, Connecticut, Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont — face an uphill climb, partly because of the way law enforcement acquires the gear.
Sponsors against the militarization of police admit they face tough opposition from law enforcement officials, shareholders and lawmakers who support them.
A Stateline analysis of 1033 Program data shows that the 50 states hold nearly $1.7 billion worth of equipment, an average of nearly $34 million per state. Per capita, equipment values held by states range from less than $1 for Alaska, Pennsylvania and Hawaii to more than $14 for Alabama, Florida, New Mexico and Tennessee.
The type of gear the states have also varies widely. Alaska law enforcement, for example, has 165 rifles and almost $170,000 in night vision equipment, among other items.
But law enforcement in Florida, has 47 mine-resistant vehicles, 36 grenade launchers and more than 7,540 rifles. In Texas, there are 73 mine-resistant vehicles and a $24.3 million aircraft. In Tennessee, there are 31 mine-resistant vehicles and seven grenade launchers. North Carolina has 16 helicopters and 22 grenade launchers.
The 1033 is a shadowy program that lacks oversight and lets police request anything they want, regardless of whether they need it. Some say it even tramples the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the U.S. military from operating on American soil.