Nightscopes, military assault rifles, grenade launchers and 14-ton Mine-Resistance Ambush-Protected vehicles built for taking down terrorist enclaves are becoming part of the toolbox of local police departments under a federal program that ships such equipment out on request and without charge.
The issue came came to national attention when law-enforcement officers in Ferguson, Missouri, outfitted like an invading army, were deployed against violent protesters outraged by the shooting death of black teen Michael Brown by a white police officer.
WND reported there are some 17,000 police departments nationwide equipped with $4.2 billion worth of equipment ranging from Blackhawk helicopters and battering rams to explosives, body armor and night vision.
It’s all under the federal government’s 1033 program that supplies “surplus” military weapons to local officers, departments and agencies.
But now resistance to such militarization of local police has been enacted with a bill signed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie that bans local law-enforcement agencies from obtaining such equipment without authorization from their local government.
According to the Tenth Amendment Center, which monitors and reports on issues of state and federal authority, it’s “an important first step toward blocking federal programs that militarize local police.”
The bill, S2364, by state Sen. Nia Gill, a Democrat, puts local government officials directly between the federal government and local law enforcers.
“This law interposes the local government in the process, giving the people of New Jersey the power to end it, and at the least, forcing the process into the open,” the report said.
It was approved on votes of 36-0 and 70-0 in the legislative chambers.
“With Christie’s signature, it’s the first state law of its kind directly addressing the endless flow of military equipment to state and local police,” the report said.
The bill “wouldn’t put an end to the militarization of New Jersey law enforcement, but it does create a mechanism for local communities to stop the free-flowing tide of equipment.”
“Citizens now have the power and forum to pressure their elected officials at a city or county level to vote against such acquisitions or face the consequences come the next election. The new law also creates an environment of transparency that didn’t exist before,” the center said.
Center officials told WND at least eight other states are considering similar or related language, including some that have significantly stronger language than New Jersey’s.
Tenth Amendment Center spokesman Michael Boldin told WND: “Our view is that the New Jersey law is significant because it represents the first salvo by states against an unfettered flow of military equipment from Washington, D.C., to state and local law enforcement. Other states are likely to take stronger steps forward in the near future. Good policing is about acting like peace officers, not a command and control military force. With more federal control over local police being a goal of some in the federal government, the New Jersey law giving final say over the receipt of such military equipment to local communities is an important victory.”
WND recently reported the American Civil Liberties Union was critical of the 1033 program.
Cheryl Chumley, author of “Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare is Becoming our Reality,” said the information is “insightful and informative.”
“The ACLU is dead wrong on a number of issues – but on this, on the red flag raised on militarized police, the group is dead on correct,” she said.
She said the Obama administration has had little interest until recently in examining the process of distributing war weapons to police departments.
“He’s likely been quiet because of statements he made in mid-2008 calling for a civilian police force akin to the size and power of the nation’s military – and now he sees the fruits of that desire are not so appetizing after all.”
WND reported at the time that a copy of Obama’s Colorado Springs speech posted online apparently was edited to exclude Obama’s specific references to the new force.
Are members of the American public in danger because of the program?
Some would say yes. The Review-Journal in Las Vegas has reported a lawsuit by members of a family claiming civil rights violations by police.
The report explains police thought a neighbor of Michael and Linda Mitchell, and their adult son Anthony, had barricaded himself and a child in a nearby home.
SWAT team members demanded that the Mitchells leave their home so police could use it for a tactical “advantage” during the crisis. They refused and “police later knocked down Anthony Mitchell’s door with a metal ram and entered his house without either a warrant or his permission,” their claim alleges.
Mitchell was arrested, the report said.
NJ.com last fall documented the weaponization in New Jersey.
The news site reported Jersey City police “have the firepower of an army, with an inventory of 155 surplus M16 military assault rifles, able to spit out hundreds of rounds a minute.”
“And the Bergen County sheriff’s office has a grenade launcher.”
NJ.com said that according to an analysis of Defense Logistics Agency transfers to New Jersey, surplus military items “ranging from office equipment, sleeping bags, computers, digital cameras and clothing to aircraft, vehicles and weapons meant for a battlefield have been shipped to departments across the state.”
Included are 529 military-issue M16 assault rifles “that went to 15 counties; 365 M14s, a rifle still used by Navy SEAL teams, sent to 17 New Jersey counties; night vision goggles and range finders able to find targets in the dark; dozens of Army Humvees and armored trucks; five bomb disposal robots; and a $412,000 mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicle, known as MRAP, meant for war zone patrols.”
At the time, Ari Rosmarin, the public policy director for the ACLU in New Jersey, told the site: “We’re building a culture in our local sheriff police departments of a warrior mentality. The more police officers see themselves as warriors, the more they’ll begin seeing members of the community as the enemy.”
Barnegat resident James D’Arienzo told the site a fleet of Humvees stored on the grounds of an old skateboard parks look out of place.
“It looks like we’re living in North Korea,” he said. “There is no need for any of these vehicles.”
WND also has reported on a trend in which cities and counties are returning the war weapons.
“Whenever this kind of armament is brought into a community, it should only be done with the knowledge and consent of the citizenry,” John Whitehead, a constitutional attorney based in Charlottesville, Virginia, said in a statement released to WND.
The report noted law enforcement agencies across the country have quietly returned more than 6,000 unwanted or unusable items to the Pentagon in the last 10 years, aaccording to Mother Jones magazine.
The report noted that during the 1980s, SWAT raids numbered about 3,000 a year but now occur more than 80,000 times per year.
The results sometimes are horrendous. WND previously reported on an incident in rural Habersham County, Georgia, in which a SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade into a home where officers believed a drug dealer was hiding out. The grenade landed in the crib of a 19-month-old boy and blew open his face. The toddler spent five weeks in the hospital following the May 28 incident which the local sheriff called “a mistake.”