President Orders Review of Military Surplus to Local Law Enforcement

President Obama ordered a review Saturday of the federal 1033 program under which Davis acquired the MRAP
President Obama ordered a review Saturday of the federal 1033 program under which Davis acquired the MRAP

On Saturday, as national issues began to move in directions parallel to local controversies, President Barack Obama ordered a comprehensive review of the federal 1033 program, which will consider whether the program is appropriate at all, whether the agencies are receiving sufficient training and guidance on the use of that equipment, and finally whether the federal government is auditing the use of the equipment in a sufficient manner.

“I think it’s probably useful for us to review how the funding has gone, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars, to make sure that what they’re purchasing is stuff that they actually need, because there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred,” President Obama said yesterday. “And I think that there will be some bipartisan interest in reexamining some of those programs.”

“The whole country and every representative and senator have seen the visuals, and at some level, it made all of us uncomfortable,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat from Missouri, and a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, who will lead a hearing in September into police use of military-style equipment, the New York Times reported on Sunday. “It’s a moment where we can take a timeout and look at these policies.”

The city of Davis recently acquired a piece of surplus military equipment through the federal 1033 Program, known as the “MRAP” (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected). According to Police Chief Landy Black, “It is one of the smaller versions of armored vehicle the military had been employing in Afghanistan.”

In the staff report for the Tuesday city council meeting, Chief Black noted that in 2009 the Davis City Council passed resolution 09-033 which he said “(renewed) authorization for the Davis Police Department to acquire surplus federal/military equipment suitable for use in conventional law enforcement activities through the 1033 Program of the Defense Logistics Agency, Law Enforcement Support Office (DLA/LESO).”

However, it is not clear that the city council in 2009 recognized what they were reauthorizing. That resolution, which was passed on April 14, 2009, does not seem to imply that the city would get military equipment. The staff report states, “The Davis Police Department has participated for a number of years, and procured various items, from the Surplus State and Federal Property program administered by the State Department of General Services.”

The resolution itself simply states, “The City of Davis Police Department desires to participate in the State of California Dept. of General Services Surplus Personal Property Program.”

It continues, “The City of Davis is hereby authorized to participate in the State of California Department of General Services State and Federal Surplus Property Program” and it authorizes four officials “as city representatives to acquire surplus property through the auspices of the California State Agency for Surplus Property and accept responsibility for payment of incidental fees by the surplus property agency under the Terms and Conditions as listed on the attached documents.”

There is no mention in this resolution that this would mean the acquisition of “military equipment,” and it was a consent item and was never discussed.

According to a lengthy Newsweek article, “America has been quietly arming its police for battle since the early 1990s.”

Newsweek continues,“Faced with a bloated military and what it perceived as a worsening drug crisis, the 101st Congress in 1990 enacted the National Defense Authorization Act. Section 1208 of the NDAA allowed the Secretary of Defense to “transfer to Federal and State agencies personal property of the Department of Defense, including small arms and ammunition, that the Secretary determines is— (A) suitable for use by such agencies in counter-drug activities; and (B) excess to the needs of the Department of Defense.” It was called the 1208 Program. In 1996, Congress replaced Section 1208 with Section 1033.”

Newsweek reports, “The idea was that if the U.S. wanted its police to act like drug warriors, it should equip them like warriors, which it has—to the tune of around $4.3 billion in equipment, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.”

1033 procurements are not matters of public record. Newsweek noted, “The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which coordinates distribution of military surplus, refuses to reveal the names of agencies requesting ‘tactical’ items, like assault rifles and MRAPs — for security reasons, a spokesperson for DLA told Newsweek via email.”

While the program was developed in response to the drug war, it grew in response to 9/11.

The New York Times this morning notes, “For years, internal audits have raised concerns about the management and oversight of federal grants, but nothing until now has prompted the government to question the wisdom behind the programs.”

The Times continues, “After the 9/11 attacks, the government pushed billions of dollars to local law enforcement agencies through the Department of Justice and the newly created Department of Homeland Security. The grants paid for radios that allowed local police and fire officials to talk to each other during a crisis. Grants placed lifesaving equipment in ambulances and hospitals.”

Attorney General Eric Holder stated on Saturday that this equipment “flowed to local police forces because they were increasingly being asked to assist in counterterrorism.” But he also said that “displays of force in response to mostly peaceful demonstrations can be counterproductive,” and so “it makes sense to take a look at whether military-style equipment is being acquired for the right purposes and whether there is proper training on when and how to deploy it.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, there was little debate over these expenditures and supply of surplus equipment. The New York Times reports, “But the rush to arm America’s police departments made oversight difficult… The federal government also did not typically insist that local authorities be trained on how and when to use its new equipment.”

That will now change as the White House looks to review, among other things, training requirements.

On Tuesday, the city council will be asked to review the acquisition of the MRAP, but the entire program seems in need of review.

On Saturday, the Vanguard asked the city council to rectify this situation and that the council amend resolution 09-333 to require council consent for any military equipment the city attempts to acquire. In light of the current information, perhaps that request does not go far enough.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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6 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    “On Saturday, the Vanguard asked the city council to rectify this situation and that the council amend resolution 09-333 to require council consent for any military equipment the city attempts to acquire.”

    I second that motion, and add a friendly amendment that the MRAP be sent back.

  2. Tia Will

    The issue of the MRAP is a City Council Agenda item for Tuesday, August 26.
    I would encourage anyone who has strong feelings about this particular vehicle, or the military surplus acquisition program, plan to attend and make your feelings known to the council.

    1. London

      Thank you for this info, Tia. I’ve left my opinions on this subject in the comment section of several of David’s articles. I’m glad to see your name here this morning and I hope the quake wasn’t too bad in the Davis area.
      Lydia

      1. Tia Will

        Hi London,

        I would have happily slept through the quake and only become aware with the am news had my partner, not awakened me in his attempt to get the news in real time by looking it up on the earthquake section
        of USGS. ; ). Thanks for asking.

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