Days after President Obama announced the federal government will no longer offer local law enforcement certain military-grade equipment, Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced a bill that would force state and local law agencies to return recently-banned equipment as well.
According to a spokesperson for Sen. Schatz, though much of this equipment is currently being held by state or local law enforcement agencies, the federal government retains ownership of the equipment, so it is free to reclaim its own property.
In response to a report from the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing about the militarization of policing nationwide, Obama banned the feds from providing “weaponized aircraft or vehicles, firearms or ammunition of .50-caliber or higher, grenade launchers, bayonets or camouflage uniforms.”
But Rand and Schatz claim the order doesn’t go far enough, because it allows police to hold on to military equipment that’s already in their possession. Under their new bill, dubbed the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, recipients of advanced equipment would have to give the property back to the Department of Defense, if the items are not operationally necessary. The legislation expands the list of equipment that the DOD cannot transfer, including drones and explosives, and requires government agencies to monitor all transactions of military-grade supplies.
“Not surprisingly, big government in Washington has created an incentived system in which local law enforcement is provided mass amounts of equipment to build up forces that resemble small armies,” said Paul. “By putting these restrictions on the current transfer programs, we can eliminate the wasteful spending these programs have created and stop the militarization of our police forces.”
Schatz continued, “As we rebuild the trust between communities and the police, we have to address the role that the federal government has played in supplying law enforcement with battlefield equipment. Our bill would ban the transfer of certain equipment and put safeguards in place to ensure that federal funds are used appropriately.”
Police departments across the country routinely procure advanced weaponry and technology from the federal government, in order to combat drug crimes. But the transactions often require police forces to use all of the equipment within a year’s time, so departments have also utilized the weaponry to tackle low-level offenses that have nothing to do with drug-related activities — resulting in excessive uses of force and exacerbating tensions between officers and civilians. For instance, many cried foul when officers dressed in military garb responded to peaceful protests in Ferguson with tanks and automatic rifles.