A disturbing trend in law enforcement has resulted in localized police departments transforming into quasi-paramilitary forces equipped with vehicles and weapons normally stockpiled by the Pentagon, according to a U.S. Congressman.
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and activist Michael Shank wrote an op-ed in USA Today on March 10 to say that things have gone too far and to announce that Johnson is introducing what is considered the first bill aimed at curbing the trend.
“Something potentially sinister is happening across America, and we should stop and take notice before it changes the character of our country forever,” they said in the USA Today piece. “County, city and small-town police departments across the country are now acquiring free military-grade weapons that could possibly be used against the very citizens and taxpayers that not only fund their departments but who the police are charged with protecting.”
What do small-town sheriffs and police departments need with mine-resistant tanks and armored Humvees? Johnson argues that a Pentagon program known as 1033 is responsible for the shift in U.S. law enforcement outfitting.
Johnson, a member of the House Armed Services and Judiciary Committees, said the Roanoke Rapids Police Department, which polices a small North Carolina town of roughly 16,000 people, acquired some Humvees and mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) that the department proudly displayed at a recent car show. The force got them for free from the Pentagon after they were used in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Tommy Hathaway, the town’s police chief, said that “its intended purpose is to prevent mass casualties and to extricate people,” adding that he hoped the vehicles would never need to be used.
In South Carolina, the op-ed continued, the Columbia Police Department also received a free MRAP from the Pentagon, that otherwise would have cost the city of Columbia nearly $700,000, Johnson and Shank wrote.
“We are quickly redefining what a rational response to a security threat looks like,” they said.
Other towns that have received free MRAPs previously used in war zones include “Texas’s McLennan and Dallas Counties; Idaho’s Boise and Nampa; Indiana’s West Lafayette, Merrillville, and Madison; Minnesota’s St. Cloud and Dakota County; New York’s Warren and Jefferson Counties; South Carolina’s North Augusta and Columbia; Tennessee’s Murfreesboro; Arizona’s Yuma; Illinois’s Kankakee County; and Alabama’s Calhoun County.”
Even Ohio State University recently acquired an MRAP.
This is why Rep. Johnson plans to introduce legislation to reform the 1033 program before America’s main streets and civilian police militarize further.