The police response to protests in Ferguso over the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown brought the issue of militarized police into the forefront of national dialogue. The fight against police militarization became a sort of culture war thing. Eager to show that he sympathized with protesters and to distance himself from the actions and consequences of a federal government he's indisputably at the head of, President Obama ordered a review of the Pentagon's 1033 program, under which military surplus is sent to local law enforcement. Demilitarizing our cities and communities was always going to be an uphill battle; the police didn't militarize of their own accord, the years-long process would be impossible without a level of support not just from politicians but voters too.
Now the Washington Times reports on just how little the president's review and protests in Ferguson changed the facts on the ground:
A Washington Times analysis of the first three months after the riots shows the program remains popular with law enforcement agencies throughout the country, though there have been some changes in the types of equipment that are now being offered.
The 3,879 rifles the Pentagon shipped was an astronomical increase over the dozen rifles shipped during the same three-month period in 2013, with several police agencies taking delivery of hundreds of rifles soon after the Ferguson riots.
Armored vehicles, which drew particular scrutiny in the riots in Ferguson and other cities, were less popular in the aftermath. The Pentagon shipped just 11 mine-resistant vehicles, or MRAPs, from Aug. 15 through Nov. 14, compared to nearly 180 in the same time period a year earlier.
Including both lethal equipment and the more mundane items such as uniforms and office supplies that make up most of the transfers, the overall number was about the same in 2014, though the dollar value of the equipment transferred — about $157 million over the three months — was down 15 percent.
Support for police militarization has been a bipartisan issue. When Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) offered an amendment in June that would limit military transfers to local law enforcement, only 43 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted for it. Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), whose district includes Ferguson and who condemned the deployment of militarized police against protesters, was among the 355 members of Congress who voted against Grayson's amendment.
President Obama ordered an actual change to the policies surrounding the 1033 program earlier this month so in a few months we might know how little that changes the facts on the ground, too.