Costs and Consequences of Arming America’s Law Enforcement with Combat Equipment

Source: Mark Denbeaux, Jeremy Dack, Dakota Gallivan, Lucas Morgan, Jared Stepp, Joshua Wirtshafter, Seton Hall Public Law Research Paper No. 2492321, September 5, 2014

From the abstract:
The catalyst for this report was an U.S. Army Iraq Veteran describing the similarity between the streets of Boston during the manhunt following the Boston bombing to those in Bagdad. An alarming and unprecedented number of federal spending programs have transformed local police departments and law enforcement organizations into lethal combat units patrolling the cities and towns of the United States. While these federal programs directed money to assist local law enforcement agencies with drug interdiction and emergency management operations, the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri highlight the dangers of supplying combat equipment to local law enforcement personnel who lack the training, discipline, and command and control structure of military combat units. The radical increase of resources and combat power has directly affected the relationship citizens and the community at large have with local law enforcement and has led to perilous policing strategies. This report details twelve separate government programs overseen by three federal agencies providing law enforcement agencies with combat equipment.

Although the dollar amounts of these programs are staggering, the disregard of Federal control and oversight after money and combat equipment is distributed to local agencies risks catastrophic consequences. Now that the genie is out of the bottle and almost every metropolitan force, city, and small town possesses the capabilities on display in Ferguson, Missouri, violent confrontation between citizens and law enforcement threatens to become the new American normal.

As pictures and journalist descriptions from Ferguson, Missouri demonstrate, combat equipment used by law enforcement threatens the safety of citizens and can exacerbate already tense situations.

While there may be a time and a place for the use of combat equipment on United States soil, it should be rare and deployed within the command and control structure of a military trained and accountable to civilian authorities. Army and Air National Guard units already exist in all 50 states. These units can be activated by order of their state Governor and placed under his or her control. National Guard units have an established rank structure and the training to use their weapons and equipment effectively and safely. Activating National Guard units when a crisis occurs rather than relying on a militarized police force is not only more effective, but also ensures respecting the civil liberties of the community.