Feds Giving Military Vehicles and Equipment to Local Police
Bullet-proof vehicles that once patrolled battle zones in Iraq and Afghanistan will soon begin appearing as police vehicles in American communities – and on a college campus or two – thanks to a federal government giveaway program for excess military equipment.
New Mexico Watchdog reports that 30-ton, Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles are being snatched up by local police departments, often at no cost, as the nation’s two Middle Eastern wars wind down.
The weapons grab isn’t unique to New Mexico; it’s happening all across the U.S.
The militarization of America’s police – as some are calling it – is being made possible by the federal government’s 1033 program which was established in 1997.
The armored trucks that seat up to 20 people and can cruise at freeway speeds are just the beginning of what local law enforcement departments are receiving from Uncle Sam. The New York Times reports that M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers, night-vision equipment and more “are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice.”
Civil libertarians warn that arming local police officers for battlefield-like duty could lead to abuses of power. Those concerns seem especially relevant now that Americans know many federal agencies – including the Bureau of Land Management and the IRS – have their own SWAT teams.
Liberty-minded citizens are also troubled by the NSA spying program, the Department of Homeland Security’s recent ammunition binge, and the coming of surveillance drones. The appearance of military vehicles on Main Street only adds to those concerns.
The question must be asked: Why are government officials at all levels getting armed to the teeth?
What are they preparing for?
Police officers say there’s nothing nefarious about the use of military castoffs. The MRAPs, for instance, can handle rugged terrain and can be used to combat wildfires and other natural disasters. They can also be used in cases of school shootings and other emergencies.
Perhaps it’s as innocent as all that, and civil libertarians’ fears will never be realized. But that doesn’t mean the military’s giveaway should be free of criticism. Fiscal hawks note the federal program illustrates D.C.’s addiction to wasteful spending.
Joshua Cook of BenSwann.com writes that even though the MRAP vehicles are “free,” they were originally “purchased by taxpayer money.”
“Five hundred surplus military vehicles costing $658,000 each adds up to $329 million dollars of surplus DoD spending (and therefore taxing) on vehicles which are so unnecessary to the military they are being given away to American cities,” Cook writes. “Though this wouldn’t fix the debt, it is yet another multi-million dollar piece of wasteful spending by the American federal government.”