Nick Penzenstadler and Daphne Chen, USA TODAY, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
As protests over police brutality lead to calls for law enforcement overhauls, a decades-old Department of Defense program faces renewed pressure from Congress to stem the flow of military equipment to police.
Local law enforcement agencies have obtained nearly half a billion dollars of surplus military equipment under the so-called 1033 Program since August 2017, when President Donald Trump lifted restrictions imposed by the Obama administration, a USA TODAY/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis found.
Because the Department of Defense does not report items that police obtained but decommissioned or returned, the true amount of military equipment given to police since 2017 is probably higher.
Value of military equipment transferred to law enforcement
Law enforcement agencies have received almost $454 million in surplus military equipment since Trump lifted restrictions on the 1033 Program. This is about the same amount law enforcement received while the Obama administration's restrictions were in place.
Using federal data, the analysis found that law enforcement agencies largely gave up controversial items such as grenade launchers and bayonets, prohibited under the Obama administration.
Police have increasingly obtained other military-grade equipment such as riot gear and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, the hulking, heavily armored vehicles designed to withstand explosive blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such equipment has been spotted in Minneapolis and Spokane, Washington, during protests in response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed, handcuffed black man who died as a police officer kept his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.
According to the latest federal data, police agencies possess nearly 1,100 MRAPs through the program, nearly double the number in 2014, when protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, another unarmed black man, put the program under a microscope.
Legislation unveiled last week by House and Senate Democrats would go further than Obama’s executive order. Certain firearms, ammunition, grenade launchers, bayonets, mine-resistant vehicles, drones, silencers and long-range acoustic devices (LRADs) used to deter riots would be prohibited.