‘Demilitarizing’ the police could be a more fruitful rallying cry for reformers than ‘defunding’

NPP Pressroom

The Washington Post
James Hohmann

The Defense Department has been heavily criticized for faulty record-keeping, but government data show that more than $7.4 billion of materials has been transferred to local law enforcement departments since the program started, and more than 8,000 agencies have benefited.

[...] The origin of this program dates to 1990, when the federal government wanted to put military surplus to good use after the Cold War and, particularly, to give local law enforcement agencies better tools to fight the war on drugs. Section 1033 of the NDAA in 1997, where the program gets its name, expanded the equipment made available and removed the requirement that it be used for drug interdiction. The program grew immensely after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Tom Clark, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said it is hard to research the long-term effects of the transfers because the record-keeping was so bad in the years before Obama’s executive order in 2015. “As a consequence, a lot of the social science analysis that’s been done has rested on really flawed data that are problematic,” Clark said. “We have revisited previous studies using newer data, and our analysis suggests there’s no evidence the 1033 program leads to a reduction in crime rates.” He added that local police departments also buy military-style equipment directly from suppliers, adding to the battlefield look of city streets over the past two weeks.

Lindsay Koshgarian, the program director for the National Priorities Project at the progressive Institute for Policy Studies, said the 1033 program has been “terribly ill-advised” because it has incentivized using military-style equipment for law enforcement functions that don’t benefit from having it. “Police departments can ask for almost any piece of military equipment and get it with little scrutiny,” she said.

Read the full article at The Washington Post.