“Do Not Resist,” an independent film about police militarization, aired on PBS on Monday, February 12, 2018.
While the film focused on the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO in 2014, it also covered various law enforcement agencies across the nation that were receiving military equipment from the federal government through grants and other programs.
In Concord, New Hampshire, the police chief asked the city council to accept a grant for a B.E.A.R.C.A.T. Concord has a population of 42,904 and according to the film, only two murders from 2004 to 2016. In the film, several people testified in front of the council, stating that a small city like Concord had no need for a military vehicle, that having a military vehicle would change the public’s attitude toward the police, and that even though it was grant, the people would end up paying for it. There was even a man at the back of the room holding a large sign that read “More Mayberry, less Fallujah.”
The film also covered a Senate hearing where Senator Tom Coburb (R-Okla.), Senator Claire McCaskill (D – Mo.) and Senator Rand Paul (R – Tex.) argued against the federal government offering grants and/or programs that involved allowing law enforcement agencies to obtain military grade vehicles. Sen. McCaskill made a point to share that since 9/11, the government has spent $34 billion in grants to purchase equipment, and the Department of Defense has spent an additional $5 billion to give agencies “free’ equipment through programs like the 1033 program. According to their website, the 1033 Program:
The 1033 Program (formerly the 1208 Program) permits the Secretary of Defense to transfer, without charge, excess U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) personal property (supplies and equipment) to state and local law enforcement agencies (LEAs).
The 1033 Program has allowed law enforcement agencies to acquire vehicles (land, air and sea), weapons, computer equipment, fingerprint equipment, night vision equipment, radios and televisions, first aid equipment, tents and sleeping bags, photographic equipment and more.
Sen. McCaskill also noted that 36% of the equipment distributed through 1033 is NEW, and there is no data on how it is actually being used once it is acquired by law enforcement agencies.
The film went on to show how these military vehicles are being used by police. In many cases, they are used by “no knock” search warrants, in which a SWAT-like team storms a person’s house in search of drugs. In the video, a team of several officers surrounded a house, busted in the windows and handcuffed all the family members, only to find one gram of weed. A young man was arrested for the weed, and the police took possession of $800 he had on him (civil asset forfeiture). When the man’s father asked why they (the police) had to break the window, an officer replied that it was a “diversionary tactic” that his team felt was necessary. When the man asked if the police were going to pay for the window, the officer replied that they were not.
The last part of the video focused on the increase of surveillance and how it’s invading privacy. One of the men they interviewed stated that “there is no privacy in public” and that they were “prepared to sacrifice a few good guys to get all the bad guys.”
While the purpose of LECF is to support law enforcement, the issue of militarization and unnecessary use of force is not something we can turn a blind eye too. Anyone would have a hard time turning down a shiny new toy when it’s being dangled in front of them for free. It is our responsibility as citizens of a free republic to explain to our officers why accepting these grants and free military equipment is a bad idea. Not only does it create an “us versus them” environment and catapult the image of officers from friendly neighborhood cop to soldier, but it ties the hands of the police department. By accepting federal grants, they become accountable to the federal government rather than the people of their community.
We want our officers to be safe in their jobs and have the equipment they need to perform their jobs. Rarely do they need military grade equipment. In the odd situation that they do, it is up to them and the community to pay for it so that they do not become another pawn of the government to federalize police.