A broad coalition of 60 groups, led by The Constitution Project (TCP) and including Defending Rights & Dissent, sent a letter today to several Senate and House committees calling for a moratorium on the U.S. Department of Defense 1033 program — the largest and most prominent federal program providing police departments with military equipment — until Congress holds hearings to ensure that, if military equipment is provided to law enforcement, such equipment is not overused and misused. The signatories include right- and left-leaning organizations, including civil and human rights groups, government watchdogs, children’s advocacy organizations, faith groups, and law enforcement. The letter follows Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement and President Trump’s Executive Order removing important limits and oversight of programs allowing police to obtain military equipment from the federal government.
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Many of the signatories were directly involved in conversations with the previous administration leading to important oversight and limits on the ability of law enforcement agencies to obtain certain military equipment — such as bayonets, grenade launchers, and weaponized and armored vehicles — from federal programs like the 1033 program. The letter states, “We are dismayed that, after years of advocacy and dialogue, we are once again returning to an era in which federal agencies will operate these programs virtually unchecked.”
The letter also emphasizes that:
“Such federal programs-to the extent they provide military equipment or facilitate its acquisition-must be subject to necessary limits and additional oversight due to their corrosive impact on constitutional and community policing and exacerbation of racial tension in this country. We urge you to suspend the controversial 1033 program until Congress and the public understand-through Congressional hearings-what steps the federal government is taking to provide oversight and accountability of these programs.
Over the last few years, high-profile encounters-many deadly-between law enforcement and community members renewed important public discussions around the troubling trend of police militarization and tactics in our country. Reforming programs that allow police to acquire military equipment is both a practical and constitutional imperative. Rather than expanding their arsenals, law enforcement agencies nationwide should be emphasizing building trust with the communities they serve.
“Those concerned with greater transparency and accountability in our government should be deeply troubled by this policy change,” Madhuri Grewal, TCP Senior Counsel, stated. “Just last month, the Government Accountability Office created a fake law enforcement agency and was able to obtain $1.2 million worth of military gear from our federal government. Now, it has become even easier to obtain military equipment from the Department of Defense and other federal agencies.”
Last year, TCP’s Committee on Policing Reforms – – a bipartisan group that includes former law enforcement and military officers– issued a report that highlighted serious constitutional and policy concerns raised by law enforcement’s use of military equipment and tactics. The report calls for necessary limitations on the federal programs providing tactical military equipment to states and requiring law enforcement agencies to demonstrate that military equipment would be used only in limited and narrowly-tailored circumstances.