As part of his racial equity agenda, President Joe Biden has signed an executive order to bar police departments from obtaining military-grade equipment such as grenade launchers, armored vehicles, and high-caliber weapons.
A report from the Daily Caller chronicled the see-sawing policy between presidents. The original policy to ban military-grade weapons came during Obama’s tenure in response to the aftermath of the Ferguson, Missouri, riots, where police response was described as “militarized.” Former President Donald Trump then lifted the ban in 2017, and now in 2021, Biden has reinstated it.
In an interview with NowThis, Biden said, “Surplus military equipment for law enforcement? They don’t need that.” He continued, “The last thing you need is an up-armored Humvee coming into a neighborhood, it is like the military invading, they don’t know anybody, they become the enemy. They’re supposed to be protecting these people.”
According to a CNBC report, in response to the nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, police used non-lethal military equipment such as flashbangs, rubber bullets, and pepper balls. It is unclear whether these would be included in the ban.
The same report detailed how federal programs – the 1033 and 1122 initiatives – allowed the Department of Defense (DOD) to send excess military-grade weapons to local law enforcement agencies, and enables them to purchase these weapons as well. Under program 1033, DOD transferred $7.4 billion dollars-worth of equipment in total. Local law enforcement only needed to pay for shipping and maintenance in order receive the equipment.
Meanwhile, under the 1122 program, police departments could actually purchase new equipment using their own funding. Due to poor oversight and bookkeeping, some of the equipment disappeared and remains unaccounted for, but the National Police Foundation assures that the vast majority of equipment received through these programs is non-lethal, consisting of “clothing, protective equipment,” and “basic infrastructure needs.”
Senior policy advisor for the Department of Homeland Security, Thomas Nolan, believes that militarizing police departments ultimately does more harm than good. He said, “When they bring this kind of military hardware and this kind of potential for the use of force and violence to a protest, that’s something that’s not going to produce the desired outcome…it’s going to make them feel that the police are not there to ensure that they are safely able to engage in the activities that they are engaging in that are protected by the Constitution.”
In response, the National Police Foundation contends that program 1033 brings value to the community, and encouraged policy makers to “examine the data” further.