Just over two years after President Obama placed limits on the “1033” program to provide surplus US military equipment to local police in the United States, President Trump has announced he is reversing the limits, restoring the program in full.
Initially started in 1997, the program was intended to give US police access to unneeded military gear, though it fueled considerable controversy in serving to militarize the police. This concern grew substantially in 2014-2015, when Ferguson and other protests saw police deploying military gear against protesters.
President Obama’s limits banned the provision of tracked, armored vehicles (i.e. tanks), bayonets, grenade launchers, and weapons and ammunition in excess of .50 caliber. At the time, these were described as gear particularly likely to be misused. Obama’s move also sought specific justifications for requests from police, and for the police to assure that they trained officers to properly use vehicles they are still given.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions complained Obama’s limits “went too far,” and put “superficial concerns above public safety.” President Trump’s executive order reverses the situation to 2014 levels, where police had access to everything.
Sessions insisted Trump’s move proved the US “will not allow criminal activity,” and that providing police with tanks and bayonets would “save taxpayer money,” based on a study that claims a heavily militarized police force would cut crime substantially.
Sen. Rand Paul (R – KY), a long-time critic of militarized police, criticized the move, and announced he will be reintroducing the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, which had previously been abandoned in the face of Trump’s limit. Paul’s Act would ban all “offensive” equipment being given to the police, limiting the 1033 program to body armor and helmets.