Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday announced a roll back of the Obama-era restrictions on the transfer of surplus military equipment to police departments across the country, despite concerns that doing so casts police as “warrior cops” who resemble an occupying army. The decision will mean that local police departments will now have easier access to grenade launchers, high-caliber firearms, bayonets, camouflage gear, and armored personnel carriers used on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“These are the type of helmets and gear that saved the life of an officer in the Orlando nightclub shooting,” Sessions said in making the announcement before the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville, Tennessee. “Studies have shown these programs reduce crime and reduce violence [against police].”
The attorney general added that President Donald Trump’s executive order, which takes effect immediately, will send a strong message that “we will not allow criminal activity, violence and lawlessness to become the new normal.”
The Pentagon’s Law Enforcement Support Office, also known at the 1033 program and worth an estimated $5.4 billion, was curbed by the Obama administration in response to police tactics during the protests over the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.
Images of officers armed with sniper rifles on top armored vehicles drew shock and outrage across the world and set off a wider debate about whether police departments had become too militarized.
From 2006 through to 2014, the 1033 program supplied law enforcement agencies across the country with 11,959 bayonets, $124 million worth of night-vision equipment, 27 cargo transport airplanes, and 422 helicopters. This was despite serious concerns that the proliferation of this equipment had led to a rise of “warrior cops” that subjugated nonviolent drug offenders and civilians to terrifying paramilitary raids.
Some notable examples of the 1033 program include the police in Johnston, Rhode Island, population 29,000, acquiring 10 armored trucks, and the Detroit Public Schools Police department obtaining six bomb disposal robots. The Pentagon has been so eager to give away equipment like rifles and pipe bombs that they even attempted to sell $1.2 million worth of it to a fake police department.
Sessions however insisted that concerns about the program were “superficial,” and bizarrely, he suggested that the flooding in Houston showed that police need to have mine-resistant vehicles.
The Fraternal Order of Police said they “applauded” the decision to provide surplus equipment to state and local law enforcement. “This critical policy change – something I personally spoke to the President about,” said Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police. “[It] demonstrates how much respect he and his Attorney General have for our members and all the men and women in law enforcement.”
— National FOP (@GLFOP) August 28, 2017
“The previous Administration was more concerned about the image of law enforcement being too ‘militarized’ than they were about our safety,” he continued.
Sessions painted a grim picture of rising crime in the United States, saying law enforcement was facing a “multi-front battle” from vicious gangs, opioids and terrorists, “combined with a culture in which family a discipline seemed to be eroding further and further”.
“We will always seek to affirm the critical role of police officers in our society,” he continued. “We will not participate in anything that would give comfort to radicals who promote agendas that preach hostility rather than respect for police.”
Session’s speech received a standing ovation from the Fraternal Order of Police, and many of the introductory speakers were quick to congratulate him, including Chris Cox, the executive director of the political and lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association (NRA), who thanked him for an administration that backs law enforcement.