Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has been warning of the dangers of militarized police departments across the nation for some time. In August, he wrote in a Time op-ed that such militarization, combined with a developing “erosion of civil liberties and due process,” results in “no-knock searches, board general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture.”
“We begin to have a very serious problem,” he said at the time.
Now he’s going further, with plans raise the issue in the U.S. Senate during the next session.
According to a Buzzfeed report online, Paul’s staff members said he will reintroduce a bill that “goes after the federal programs that send military-grade equipment to local police departments.”
“Paul will be trying to force a Republican-controlled Senate to examine federal programs that funnel millions in grant money and surplus to arm local police forces with weapons and vehicles designed for the battlefield,” the report said.
It’s the federal government’s 1033 program that offers military grade equipment to local police departments and the like. It’s been controversial for a number of issues in recent months, including once when a flash-bang grenade was tossed into a home, and landed in the bed of a toddler.
Protesters also have blasted the program for providing police departments like that in Ferguson, Missouri, with armored vehicles for officers to use.
Author Cheryl Chumley recently explained a bill that Paul’s reportedly will be modeled after – a proposal from Sen. Tom Coburn.
She wrote, “Sen. Tom Coburn from Oklahoma perhaps said it best. ‘There is no role in for the federal government in local and state police forces in our country,’ the Republican said, during a Tuesday hearing, the ‘Oversight of Federal Programs for Equipping State and Local Law Enforcement,’ of the full Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
“Interestingly, his comments were followed minutes later by a statement from his Democratic colleague Sen. Claire McCaskill. ‘I am confident militarized [police] tactics are not consistent with the First Amendment rights of free speech and free assembly,’ she said, reminding how Ferguson, Missouri, streets were recently overwhelmed with camo-dressed police carrying military-grade weapons and riding atop an armored vehicle. And one more point the Missouri Democrat raised: Florida police departments, for example, maintain among their equipment stocks dozens of MRAPs, or mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicles. But Florida’s National Guard?
“None, she said.”
Chumley, author of the new “Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare is Becoming our Reality” by WND Books, noted that with congressional talk, perhaps “reform could result.”
Buzzfeed said Paul’s decision to raise the issue will be a teste of its viability.
“Paul’s expected presidential run, which will likely launch next year, could put the issue back on the national agenda as well.”
Noted Chumley, “We have a president who brags about the power of the pen and phone to bypass Congress, an attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, who practically conducts surveillance operations on the press – and taps into Associated Press and Fox News telephone and email correspondences – to find out the source of supposed information leaks, and a federal Environmental Protection Agency that wants to rewrite Clean Water Act rules that clamp down on private property rights even further, with or without congressional permission. That’s just a drop in the bucket of executive overreach – of an ‘overgrown executive’ branch Madison feared.
“Now add in a nationwide shift in police departments so that officers dress like soldiers, train like soldiers and use gear like soldiers. The Pentagon’s 1033 program alone has awarded more than $4.3 billion of cast-off Department of Defense equipment to police stations around the nation since 1997 – and nearly half a billion in 2013 alone. Granted, some of that equipment is of the office-supply type. But the rest is armored vehicles, tactical weaponry, night vision goggles, body armor and Kevlar and the like,” she wrote. “Now send those officers into the streets, and by all appearance, they look like soldiers – full-time law enforcement agents who serve as a ‘standing military,’ just like Madison warned”
At a recent appearance with the Mississippi GOP, Paul said, “We’re giving out mine-resistant, ambush-protection vehicles, 20-ton vehicles. Dundee, Michigan, a town of 3,000, has a 20-ton mine-resistant, ambush-protection vehicle. That’s ridiculous. … Try to explain to me when terrorists are going to attack Dundee, Michigan, or Fargo, North Dakota.”
See his comments.
WND reported earlier when Chumley warned that there would be some elements unhappy with the idea of reining in military weapons distribution.
She said deeply linked private companies and police departments will veto citizen efforts to rein in the use of military-grade equipment in local communities.
“Companies aren’t going to be take so kindly to legislative campaigns that curb the purchasing power of one of their largest customers – the local police,” she said.
She noted that according to OpenSecrets.org, the defense industry spent $134,377,531 for lobbying last year.
With that influence, she said, plans to curb militarization probably are dead on arrival.
There even are plans for trade shows that enable communities to obtain unused military vehicles and weapons, including the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and Military Police Regimental Association trade show in Oakland, California, and the Military Police Expo in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Oakland was the site of citizen and police turmoil during the Occupy protests, while the Missouri site is about 150 miles west of Ferguson.
Chumley suggested the timing and placement of the trade shows indicates that the companies are out of touch.
She noted a newly released University of California at Berkeley study analyzing 192 protests held in 2011. The researchers found that when officers use aggressive tactics, protesters reacted aggressively. Even the uniforms officers used could be a cause for violence, the study suggests.
Chumley believes citizens should set the rules for engagement.
“Americans sick and tired of seeing police dressed like soldiers and behaving as if they’re members of the military, rather than civil servants tasked with protecting innocent civilians. Fed-up Americans can still petition their local governments to pass an ordinance that limits when police can use this equipment and gear – and when they can’t,” she said.
And WND reported when John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, who has sued police departments for SWAT tactics, wrote that incidents of misuse of military equipment “are no longer warning signs of a steadily encroaching police state.”
“The police state has arrived,” he said.
“For those like myself who have studied emerging police states, the sight of a city placed under martial law – its citizens under house arrest (officials used the Orwellian phrase ‘shelter in place’ to describe the mandatory lock-down), military-style helicopters equipped with thermal imaging devices buzzing the skies, tanks and armored vehicles on the streets, and snipers perched on rooftops, while thousands of black-garbed police swarm the streets and SWAT teams carry out house-to-house searches – leaves us in a growing state of unease,” he wrote.
WND reports on the militarization local police date to within months of the news site’s launch in 1997, when founder and CEO Joseph Farah wrote about a training session for armed federal officers for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Describing a new multi-million-dollar training facility that was schooling thousands of federal employees, he wrote: “Critics of the growing militarization of the federal government will also take no comfort in the fact that the center’s program was designed with the help of a team of experts from the U.S. military.”
Now Whitehead’s warnings and Farah’s reporting are being echoed by those representing the opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Longtime Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a self-described progressive, wrote recently in the left-leaning Huffington Post that the militarization of police needs to be reined in.
“We are at a moment of national crisis in the way our domestic law enforcement is being conducted,” he wrote. “The killing of an unarmed civilian by a law enforcement officer is, sadly, not unique. But the police response to the protests has provided a powerful cautionary moment for America. The militarization of local police has led to the arrival today in Ferguson of the actual military, the National Guard.”
He blamed the “crisis” on the “erosion of a principle in federal law, Posse Comitatus, meant to restrict the use of the military in civilian law enforcement” as well as the Pentagon’s “dispersal of military equipment to domestic police units, which has increased since 9/11.”
Further, he noted, another problem is “military-style police training reliant upon weaponry, as opposed to peace keeping, including skills development for de-escalation of violent tensions.”
He appeared to be in agreement with Whitehead.
“As journalist Benjamin Carlson points out, ‘In today’s Mayberry, Andy Griffith and Barney Fife could be using grenade launchers and a tank to keep the peace.’ This is largely owing to the increasing arsenal of weapons available to police units, the changing image of the police within communities, and the growing idea that the police can and should use any means necessary to maintain order.”
At a Department of Defense news briefing, the first two questions from reporters were about the military equipment given to local police departments, an effort officials said they were reviewing.
Whitehead said individual Americans have a responsibility to get to work.
“For instance, take a close look at your local police officers, the ones who patrol your neighborhoods and ensure the safety of your roadways. Chances are they look less and less like the benevolent keepers of the peace who patrolled Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and more like inflexible extensions of the military.
“Who calls the shots for your local police? Who do they answer to? Who provides oversight for their interactions with local police? What drives the decision-making process for your local police – revenue or the rule of law? How transparent are your local police about their activities, their equipment and their processes? In other words, who polices your local police? If it’s more police or politicians benefiting from revenue-generating programs by the police, that’s no answer.
“Remember, a police state does not come about overnight. It starts small, perhaps with a revenue-generating red light camera at an intersection. When that is implemented without opposition, perhaps next will be surveillance cameras on public streets. License plate readers on police cruisers. More police officers on the beat. Free military equipment from the federal government. Free speech zones and zero-tolerance policies and curfews. SWAT team raids. Drones flying overhead,” he wrote.
“No matter how it starts, however, it always ends the same … all-out tyranny.”