Police Abuse

Obama Doesn't Really Care About Police Militarization

|

Another form will keep things on the up and up!
Credit: Inventorchris / photo on flickr

The headline for The New York Times' story about the White House's just-released report analyzing the federal transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement agencies reads "Obama to Toughen Standards on Police Use of Military Gear." The headline isn't wrong, exactly, but a look at the actual report (pdf) from the White House indicates what they really want is to throw more paperwork at police departments for oversight and perpetuate the idea that abuse of military equipment by police agencies is a "training" issue, not a choice to be deliberately aggressive.

The White House promised to study police militarization in the wake of how various law enforcement agencies in Ferguson, Missouri, responded to the peaceful protesters, not just the aggressive or criminal ones. What comes out of the report is a call for better documentation and transparency, and an easily supportable demand that local governments must actually review and authorize acquisition of the "controlled property" military equipment (guns and vehicles) by law enforcement agencies.

What the report doesn't recommend is scaling back the programs in any notable or significant way. It appears as though the White House is trying to have it both ways on police militarization, calling for reforms without having to tackle the issues surrounding whether it's actually necessary. From BuzzFeed, which recently noted the failure of any sort recent efforts to scale back police militarization on the federal end:

The administration is keeping its hands off the bipartisan militarization debate, which imploded after a brief surge in interest on Capitol Hill. Administration officials noted repeatedly that "the vast majority" of surplus military equipment sent to local police forces is not former combat equipment and said they could not alter programs created by Congress.

Asked about proposed legislation to limit the availability of military equipment to local police, proposed by Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, the official said the White House had not reviewed the bills.

"I don't have a specific position for you," the official said.

"Our assumption is Congress has an intent here to support local law enforcement with the use of this kind of equipment," the official said on a conference call with reporters Monday. "Our focus is on what kind of protections are in place to make sure it's used properly and safely."

That only a small percentage of stuff given to the police is former combat equipment seems to be a big talking point for the administration. It's mentioned in the report as well. But the report does also show how big that four percent is in real numbers:

To date, approximately 460,000 pieces of controlled property are currently in the possession of LEAs. Examples of controlled property provided include: 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night vision devices, 5,235 high mobility, multi-purpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs), 617 mine resistant ambush protected vehicles and 616 aircraft.

This is not to say that it's wrong for the White House to acknowledge that Congress is responsible for scaling back or altering the federal programs, particularly given the Obama administration's reputation for executive actions. But not taking "a specific position" is actually taking a position. It should be read that the administration supports the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement agencies. In fact, the opening statement of the White House report describes the reasons why police have sought out the military equipment as "legitimate concerns."

What we should take away from today's announcement is that there will be no push to scale back these programs from the White House. It is up to Congress.

The White House does, however, want to offer millions in federal grants to help supply body cameras to police departments across the country. That's worth noting, too.

Advertisement

NEXT: Washington's Universal Gun Background Checks Kick In, Not That They Can Be Enforced

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Other than his personal power, just what the fuck does he care about?

    1. Fundraising and golf.

      1. what Patrick said I’m shocked that a mom able to get paid $5552 in four weeks on the internet. did you read this site link http://www.usapayjobs.com

    2. Obama doesn’t care about anything other than Obama.

      If Obama had a favorite ice cream flavor, it would be pralines and dick.

      1. If he *were* an ice cream flavor…

        Damn it!!! Blew the reference.

        1. Made more sense the first time.

  2. On the contrary, Shackford. They’re really planning to put the screws to local PDs:

    A new report did not explicitly call for a ban on the use of military equipment by police but did recommend that equipment financed by federal money have “a legitimate civilian law enforcement purpose.”

    See? Legitimate! So the cops have to write something in the box marked “why do you need this anti-tank missile?” before the DoD rubberstamps approval without reading it!

    Oversight! Accountability! Democracy in action!

    1. Sounds like they’re encouraging teh heros to use the military gear more often.

    2. Hellfires for every police department. Yipee. Though the shaped charge is pretty useless against “targets” in the open. Blast/frag is better for that sort of thing.

      1. Nothing wrong with the thermobaric warhead in the open, though, even if it’s better in confinement.

  3. You know, it never occurred to me that he might.

    1. It occurred to me that he might care about it – in that he wanted more of it, so if his massive fuckups ever caused large protests, there’d be lots of heavily armed cops ready to hurt civilians.

      1. Well that’s just borderline racist, BP. Obama only wants what’s best for us.

        1. That’s weird, because I don’t remember him asking what I thought was best for me.

          1. That’s because he knows better than you, Hugh. If you were smart enough to know he knows better than you, then you’d know that. Understand now?

            1. Go easy on Hugh.

              He believes in that silly thing called ‘Liberty’.

        2. This is absolutely true, only he has a very narrow definition of “us.” It’s really just a matter of semantics.

          1. “Us” in the Royal Plural, you mean?

            1. Certainly not the us in “we the people.”

        3. Good point, Riven. Obama is doing God’s work exposing all of the racists who out themselves by pointing out his colossal incompetence.

      2. I think he cares about it a lot. Just not in the direction that we want.

        Spend money to aggrandize the government? Sure a progs going to oppose that.

    2. Considering police militarization does tend to target his most hardcore of supporters (at least in 2008/12), you would think he would…

      1. You mean the NYT editorial board and the faculty of Harvard?

  4. The DoD likes this program. The Dems like this program. The GOP likes this program. Police departments around the country like this program. The White House has no reason to dislike this program. And no one else with any juice cares about this program. Therefore, there is no one to pressure/grease the administration into actually caring about it. So they won’t.

    1. That list of supporters is a reason to oppose most things without further analysis.

      1. Well, yeah… but with that list of supporters, it will not get changed, regardless of who is actually in power. We might get some window-dressing, more “oversight” provisions… but the core of the program will remain.

        1. The Censor wouldn’t put up with this crap.

  5. OT: From TrulyPretentious:

    http://thinkprogress.org/justi…..sentences/

    Georgia’s Top Court Reins In Private Probation Firms For Illegally Extending Sentences

    In Georgia, traffic offenses are considered criminal. So even individuals charged with running a stop sign have landed in jail for allegedly not paying fees, even over claims that they already paid. In one Georgia incident documented in a recent Human Rights Watch report, a man who stole a $2 can of beer ended up in jail for failure to pay a $200 fine that ballooned into more than $1,000 under the supervision of a private probation firm. And Georgia’s private probation companies charge twice as much per month to supervise individuals with misdemeanor convictions ($39 to $44) as the state charges to supervise individuals for felonies ($23), according to the Southern Center for Human Rights.

    1. You know, I could never understand the push to privatize the criminal justice system. If anything should be a government function, it should be the custody of those who break the law.

      Why push jailing to for-profit companies that don’t even have the appearance of oversight from the government? At least your state Department of Corrections can have its innards forced into daylight by a crusading legislator.

      1. Agreed. One of the biggest problems I had with Gary Johnson was him pushing for privatization of prisons.

        Still voted for him, though.

      2. You know, I could never understand the push to privatize the criminal justice system.

        Well, obviously you don’t stand to make any money off it.

        But I certainly agree with your point. Anarchist fantasies aside, if there exists legitimate functions for the state, criminal justice is certainly one of them.

        Of course, that doesn’t stop people from blaming libertarians/small government types for these corporatist boondoggles.

        1. Well, as noted above, Gary Johnson is a libertarian who supported that very corporate boondoggle.

          I understand some of the arguments about privatizing government functions, but I agree with you that criminal justice should not be one of those functions.

          1. Wasn’t just Gary Johnson. 20+ yrs. ago prison privatiz’n was talked up in Reason. They don’t like to bring that up now.

  6. You know who else didn’t really care about police militarization?

    1. Mahatma Ghandi?

  7. I was in St. Louis over the Thanksgiving break. Interesting to visit a city under low-level military occupation. HumVees everywhere.

    Went to the Garden Glow Light Fest at the Missouri Botanical Garden on Thanksgiving evening. There were two National Guard guys hanging around at the ticket counter, and a HumVee parked outside.

    There were a couple of them parked on the street near our friends’ apartment downtown. We stopped to get on the trolley, and there was another HumVee parked next to the bus stop. As we came up, the guys in the ‘vehicle’ opened a window and asked what we wanted, but seemed OK with us just taking the tourist bus.

    Parked outside the main police station (which we passed several times) was one of those tank-things shown in the picture above. First time I’ve actually seen one.

    Don’t think it made the national press but they cancelled the annual Thanksgiving Day parade (actually rescheduled it to later in the month). With one day’s notice. Hope not too many high school bands were disappointed 🙂

    Overall, creepy, and frighteningly ‘ordinary’

    1. Sounds like an average trip through the airport.

      1. +1
        Why am I reminded of the proverbial frog in the pan on the stove?

        1. You’re French?

          1. He didn’t say he ate the frog.

            1. Besides, they’re better grilled or roasted.

              1. Or fried. Everything is better fried.

                  1. Sure it is. Have some fried mozzarella.

              2. There’s another Bangkok story. While I was there, one of my favorite breakfasts was to go down and get a grilled frog from the street vendor with some sticky rice and spicy dipping sauce.

    2. Overall, creepy, and frighteningly ‘ordinary’

      That’s pretty much how it felt in Bangkok after the 2006 coup. The day after, I saw a couple of soldiers filling up their Humvee at the local gas station.

  8. “The White House promised to study police militarization”

    And when everybody stopped laughing at that, Obo said: “Did you hear the one about….?”

  9. the idea that abuse of military equipment by police agencies is a “training” issue, not a choice to be deliberately aggressive.

    I don’t really know if it’s choice to be aggressive for all police departments, per se. Giving these military-grade vehicles and weaponry to police will lead to abuse, if only because power invariably corrupts those that wield it.

    1. Also because a lot of those police departments a) don’t need that level of equipment and b) only want it because of the war boner and bragging rights they get from it.

      It’s like when you wanted a new, expensive toy on TV because you saw an ad and your parents told you that you should save up your money to buy it…and your choice was to save the money you got, or stop whining and move on. Police would be much better off if we treated them more like children when it came to their requests.

  10. Yeah, no surprise there since he reinstated the odious Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program.

  11. Obama doesn’t care about black people.

    1. Why should he? Back when he was running for office, he knew he could count on their vote without having to work for it. Now that he’s not, all he has to worry about is living in a neighborhood far away from them.

      1. Well, that and fundraising.

  12. “Training issue”

    What was it, 8-10 years ago we were being told posse comitatus is an obsolete technicality that needs to be stripped from the books?

    Now, oddly enough, LEAs are being issued military equipment and when they fuck things up with it we’re told “it’s because they don’t have military training. But if it will make you happy, okay, we’ll give them military training.”

    “Legitimate issues”

    Duh! The peasants are getting way out of line. Anyone can see that.

  13. It’s not like he’s up for re-election. Why should he care about anything not golf-related?

    1. Honestly, wouldn’t you prefer if he just played golf dawn to dusk for the next 771 days?

      1. Sure, if he takes the rest of the administration with him.

  14. Who was fucking naive enough to think a tin pot, banana republic mentality would want to scale back on militarized police?

    He is gonna usher in a post racial America too.

    *snort* *spit*

    1. Who was naive enough to think that a guy who’s only real job was part-time junior associate at a law firm would have any of the abilities to be a competent President of the U.S.?

  15. Big government statists aren’t known for rolling back the police. Who pray tell are supposed to run the show trials and gulags and crush the kulaks?

  16. I think it is important to consider why the nation’s local police forces are being militarized curtsey of the folks in Washington D.C.

    I’m concerned that the significance of the militarization has less to do with putting hardware into the hands of the locals than in co-opting local control. Washington’s favorite means by which to transfer power from the local to the federal is to throw money at it.

    As there is no substantive national police force Washington hasn’t the means by which to practice law enforcement at the street level. Neither does it have much much voice in determining how, when, where or why police should or should not deploy. Sure, the courts step in occasionally, when constitutional concerns arise, but the courts don’t concern themselves with strategic or tactical decision making.

    1. As sure as money has tied all of the country’s education establishment to the controlling hands of Washington politicians and federal bureaucrats (think Title IX, Common Core, school lunch programs, etc.), so too does police militarization tie local police agencies to the influences, and ultimately the commands, of the same politicians and bureaucrats. It doesn’t take much imagination to consider the possibility that some time in the near future police agencies will be nudged into enforcing the law in the manner, and in accordance with the desires of a federal agency. Whether that agency is the Pentagon (unlikely) or Homeland Security (likely) doesn’t really matter.

      Viewed from the perspective of aggregating power towards Washington, militarization will continue without pause. Obama is just engaged in some light PR work, nothing to see here.

  17. When it comes to local government Obama cares only about increasing dues paying union members. what they do outside if paying dues not so much.

  18. From the recent ACLU report we know that 62% of SWAT raids were for illegal drugs. Would it be reasonable to use that same figure to estimate the source of police conflict with minorities? In any event, we know that Drug Prohibition is certainly one of the root causes, and Obama could end it with one of his executive orders.

    1. I’m sure he’d make a constitutional argument against such orders. We can’t have the executive re-writing law through prioritizing execution.

  19. my neighbor’s step-sister makes $62 an hour on the internet . She has been fired for seven months but last month her paycheck was $20988 just working on the internet for a few hours. visit this site….
    ????? http://www.netjob70.com

    1. Your neighbor’s sister is lying to you…

      1. She swallows.

  20. In a country run by 1) the Law and order/we hate minorities party and 2) the public employee union party there will never be any meaningful action on this issue.

    Only way to get at these people is via civil litigation I think. Go with a mass tort theory – idea that kitting out the security forces with all this hardware itself creates a dangerous condition.

    That way the slimeball politician in a robe might start seeing his intrinsic allegiance to the trial lawyer lobby as having a stake in all this. If you start driving up insurance rates on these municipalities that is about the only thing that will ever drive meaningful change.

  21. It appears as though the White House is trying to have it both ways

    You mean to tell me that this admin. wants to try to appear like it is doing something while actually doing nothing or possibly making it worse? Color me (not) surprised.

  22. How about in exchange for the equipment a police department mustadopt the universal use of police body cameras.

  23. I personally like it when I hear on the news some stupid cop gets clipped in the line of duty.,

    http://www.Anon-Rocks.tk

  24. Actually, Obama cares quite a bit about the militarization of police. It’s a part of his ongoing program to nationalize local police and use them as an information gathering asset, and eventually as a sort of federal security service. The money, equipment and training coming from DHS, DEA and various other federal agencies has many strings attached, and is intended to prepare and equip them for their future role under federal control, as well as induce them to cooperate. The Feds intend to take over local police in the same manner that they have taken control of local schools.

    1. He is just working his way around the constitution. No standing army domestically. What a creep.

  25. I just got paid $6784 working off my laptop this month. And if you think that’s cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over $9k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less.
    This is what I do,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ?w?w?w.M?o?n?e?y?k?i?n.c?o?m?

  26. I really don’t mind reutilizing government equipment rather then cutting it up and throwing it away. BUT there must be some understanding that when it reaches the end of it’s life it is not replaced. I also don’t mind the more professional training that police are receiving (having been an Army Officer I have frequently been amazed at how unprofessional some police can be) Better training means that both the innocent and the police have a better chance of surviving. I mean really look what happened in Cleveland. No Infantry Man I know would have shot a kid like that. They would have been behind cover and attempted communication first. (The rules of engagement). BUT if you do fear the government then buy your self a Russian made rifle and ammo. That steel cored ammunition will go though just about anything…

    1. They could sell all of it overseas. No need to bring any of it home to give to the locals.

  27. I don’t get it. The big problems are about cops abusing their powers and their normal weapons. The fact that they have an armored truck in the garage doesn’t bother me.

  28. I guess Obama wouldn’t mind taking on the guy with the automatic rifle that shot up Austin Texas the other day with nothing but a six shot revolver and some flip flops? Obama be like “oh he’s got a rifle with hundreds of 7.62 rounds? Nah, that’s cool, I don’t have any use for an armored vehicle or any equipment. I got my lil’ 9mm. I got this”

  29. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link,
    go to tech tab for work detail ????????????? http://www.jobsfish.com

  30. Getting the point now? The Obama we know does so very little diligent work. He is lazy. He puts forth only Marxist childhood dreams. Those who support him still are dumber than those who have in the past voted for him.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.