After dipping in the back three quarters of 2020 amid a nationwide focus on policing, the transfer of military weapons and equipment to civilian police has picked back up in the first quarter of 2021.
An analysis of data from the Defense Logistics Agency by Stephen Semler, co-founder of the Security Policy Reform Institute, found that the value of military equipment transferred under the 1033 Program reached levels in Q1 of this year not seen since before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd.
“The military equipment police have received through the 1033 program is now Biden’s policy,” Semler wrote in his newsletter. “By him not doing anything about it makes it Biden’s problem.”
Under the 1033 Program, local and state police forces receive military equipment from the Defense Department for free, though they have to pay for transfer and maintenance costs. The Defense Logistics Agency requires law enforcement agencies to put equipment received under the 1033 Program into use within one year and utilize it for a minimum of a year, according to a memorandum of agreement that according to the ACLU is standard across all states.
Biden could curtail the program. In 2015, President Obama issued an executive order that prohibited transfers of tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft, firearms of .50 caliber or higher, bayonets, grenade launchers, and camouflage uniforms besides woodland and desert patterns or solid color uniforms. That executive order was reversed by President Trump in 2017.
One action Biden could take, according to Semler, is to recall combat gear that has been sent to police and halt future transfers.
“The military gear that flows through 1033 is on a conditional loan, the matériel can be taken back,” Semler wrote. “Biden can order it to be done himself, without Congress.”
In 2014, some members of the House of Representatives tried to end the program with an amendment that was voted down by representatives who had taken larger totals of campaign money from the PACs and employees of Department of Defense contractors, on average, than the representatives who supported it. The Program benefits Department of Defense contractors because it allows for the Defense Logistics Agency to purchase equipment for the purpose of transferring it to police. According to the ACLU, as of its 2014 report, “36 percent of the equipment transferred under the program is brand new.”
Police departments have also had an assist in acquiring military equipment through lobbying by the National Sheriff’s Association, which is supported by telecom companies including Verizon Connect and AT&T FirstNet. The National Sheriff’s Association wants Congress to codify the 1033 Military Surplus Program so it can’t be easily curtailed by executive orders.