Trump to Restore 1033 Program, Giving Military Equipment to Police
Dozens of school police agencies have received surplus military equipment as part of the 1033 Program.
President Trump has lifted restrictions on a controversial program that sends surplus military equipment to police agencies around the country.
The announcement came from Attorney General Jeff Sessions while he spoke at the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) convention August 28.
Under the 1033 Program, which was first launched in 1990 but greatly expanded in 1997, the military’s excess weapons, vehicles and other equipment are sent to local and state police agencies. Some school district and university police forces also received equipment (detailed below).
Since it’s inception, the 1033 program has transferred more than $5 billion worth of military equipment to police.
Surplus Military Equipment Program Criticisms
The program was sharply curtailed by President Obama in 2015 after riot police were seen with large-caliber weapons and armored vehicles, among other military equipment, during protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Images of those heavily armed police officers sparked criticism that law enforcement agencies were positioning to war with their communities rather than protect and serve them.
In response to those criticisms, Obama signed an executive order banning the government from giving certain military equipment to police, such as certain armored vehicles, large-caliber weapons, ammunition and grenade launchers.
In addition, Obama’s executive order prohibited police departments exclusively serving K-12 schools from receiving anything under the 1033 Program.
In response to Sessions’ announcement, civil rights organizations including the NAACP said Trump’s newest executive order is irresponsible and will inordinately impact minorities.
Military Equipment Ban Completely Lifted
Trump’s order goes into effect immediately and completely repeals Obama’s previous executive order.
The Trump administration stated the announcement reinstates the “full scope of a longstanding program for recycling surplus, lifesaving gear from the Department of Defense, along with restoring the full scope of grants used to purchase this type of equipment from other sources.”
The restored program will repurpose military equipment like helicopters, bayonets and rocket launchers. USA Today first reported that the plan calls for bayonets to be repurposed as utility knives and launchers to shoot tear gas canisters.
“We will not put superficial concerns above public safety,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said when making the announcement. “The executive order the president will sign today will ensure that you can get the lifesaving gear that you need to do your job and send a strong message that we will not allow criminal activity, violence, and lawlessness to become the new normal. And we will save taxpayer money in the meantime.”
Sessions also cited heightened threats to police and overall public safety and described police as fighting a “a multi-front battle” against violent crime, rising gang violence, the opioid epidemic, terrorism and an eroding culture that demonstrates a “disturbing disrespect for the rule of law.”
Police Groups Applaud Military Equipment Announcement
Sessions’ announcement was met with rounds of applause by the audience at the police convention. FOP President Chuck Canterbury said in a statement that his group, which is the largest police union in the country, has been trying to repeal Obama’s executive order since it was announced.
“The previous administration was more concerned about the image of law enforcement being too ‘militarized’ than they were about our safety,” Canterbury said.
FOP Executive Director James Pasco argued many law enforcement agencies have tight budgets that don’t always allow police officers to get the equipment they need.The program is popular with police departments with small budgets because they usually receive the equipment at little to no cost. Pasco also said most of the military equipment transferred in the program was defensive in nature.
What It Means for School Police and Campus Police
Before Obama restricted the 1033 Program, police forces serving school districts around the country received varying amounts of surplus equipment.
Most notably, a 2014 KHOU review of Texas state records showed at least ten Texas school districts participated in the 1033 program, receiving a combined total of 64 M-16 rifles, 18 M-14 rifles, 25 automatic pistols, extended magazines capable of holding 4,500 rounds of ammunition, armored plating, tactical vests and 15 surplus military vehicles.
In California, five districts including the Los Angeles Unified School District and the San Diego Unified School District received weapons or vehicles through the 1033 Program before Obama’s executive order. Other states where school police received military equipment include Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan and Nevada, according to a September 2014 report authored by the Legal Defense Fund and the social justice advocacy group Texas Appleseed.
It should be noted that some districts returned the weapons granted to them after Obama’s executive order passed, either due to government restrictions, internal discussions or community backlash.
Now law enforcement agencies will be able to apply for grants under the program.
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