President Obama's Order on Police Militarization: Your Federal Dollars at Work

Grenade launcher

Under a new executive order, grenade launchers like this one can no longer be supplied by the Department of Defense to U.S. local police forces. Photo by Edward Liu via Flickr.

President Obama has taken executive action to place new limits on how the Department of Defense can provide local police departments with cast-off military equipment. The new executive order prohibits the provision of tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers, and large-caliber firearms to local police departments.

Under the 1033 program, the Department of Defense provides cast-off equipment to local police forces around the country: from tanks to ammunition, police forces have acquired military grade equipment that has become all too familiar in scenes of confrontations between police and local demonstrators around the country since demonstrations began in Ferguson, Missouri almost a year ago. According to the DoD’s Defense Logistics Agency, in fiscal year 2012 the program gave away $546 million in military equipment to local police agencies – a ten percent increase over the year before.

The role of some local police departments was criticized on Monday in a new report by the task force President Obama convened:

Law enforcement cannot build community trust if it is seen as an occupying force coming in from outside to rule and control the community. - Task Force Report

Police Militarization in Massachusetts

The appearance of armored tanks and grenade launchers only contributes to this view of local police as an occupying force. In Massachusetts alone, police departments have received more than $11 million in discarded military equipment since 1995 (not adjusted for inflation), including:

  • Two 107 millimeter mortar carriers – armed tanks – at a value of $205,400 each (to the Milford Department of Corrections in 2000 and Norfolk Police Department in 2009)
  • Three mine resistant vehicles (MRAPs) designed to withstand improvised explosive devices (IEDs), at a value of at least $658,000 each (to the New Bedford, Haverhill and Rehoboth Police Departments, in 2014)
  • Two grenade launchers to the West Springfield Police Department in 2006, at a value of $720 each

These items would presumably now be prohibited. The executive order also calls for additional oversight and accountability for military equipment, including police training and reporting on incidents involving the use of such equipment, and provides for new federal grants for police training and body cameras.