Militarization of Police

Police Are Using $1.6 Billion in Surplus Military Gear Doled Out Since 9/11

That includes 1,114 armored personnel carriers.


Police departments are using more than $1 billion in surplus military equipment handed out by the Pentagon since 9/11, according to a study released last week by Brown University's Costs of War project.

The study found that the Department of Defense's (DOD) 1033 program, which offers free surplus military equipment to police departments, has transferred at least $1.6 billion worth of equipment to departments across the country since 9/11, compared to just $27 million before the terrorist attack.

That equipment includes mine-resistant, armored-protective vehicles, or MRAPs, which are hulking, armored personnel carriers designed to survive bomb blasts on the roads of Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, 1,114 MRAPs are currently in the possession of American police departments. Texas law enforcement received 116 MRAPs, the most of any state. Tennessee received the second-most, 86, and Florida received third-most, 72.

The total dollar value is likely an undercount, because the study only tracked "controlled property," like MRAPs and weaponry, which stays on the Pentagon's books as long as it remains in use. Since it was established in 1990, the 1033 program has transferred more than $7 billion total in surplus military equipment to local police departments, according to DOD estimates, but most of that stuff is mundane "non-controlled" items, like cold-weather gear and filing cabinets.

However, this most recent report says it offers "the most updated and comprehensive accounting of post-9/11 1033 program equipment transfers to date."

A 2014 report by the White House under former President Barack Obama found that the federal government had provided 460,000 pieces of military equipment to local police, including 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night-vision devices, 5,235 Humvees, 617 mine-resistant vehicles, and 616 aircraft.

The issue of police militarization came to national attention during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2015, after photographs and videos emerged from Ferguson, Missouri, showing heavily militarized police confronting civilians.

The Obama administration limited the program that year, prohibiting the transfer of such items as camouflage, .50-caliber ammunition, tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers and bayonets. Police departments in possession of these items were asked to return them.

The Obama administration also put new federal oversight and annual auditing requirements in place for the 1033 program after finding there were lax controls over the program. Police departments had to justify requests for certain big-ticket items, like armored personnel carriers, and third-party sales were banned. 

A 2017 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report is illustrative of why the requirements were added. The GAO was able to procure $1.2 million in "controlled property" through the 1033 program by creating a fictitious federal agency and applying for gear.

Police departments were loath to send back their big, shiny toys, though, and they found a much more welcome reception from the Trump administration. President Donald Trump rescinded the Obama memo, including the reporting requirements, in 2017, opening the Pentagon spigot back up.

As the Brown University report notes, though, the Pentagon's 1033 program is far from the biggest source of police militarization—although it is an important one. Department of Homeland Security grants and asset forfeiture funds funnel far more money to police departments for equipment. For instance, last year an Iowa sheriff's department bought a BearCat armored vehicle using nearly $300,000 in asset forfeiture funds.

Keeping cops from cosplaying as soldiers is only a partial fix, though. As Alec Ward wrote for Reason earlier this summer, "the problem with police militarization isn't that officers look too scary; it's that treating policing like a military function misapprehends the proper relationship between the police and the general public. By treating cops like service members, militarized policing reinforces the idea that the police exist above and apart from civil society, and invites cops to see themselves as essentially different from—and superior to—ordinary citizens."

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  1. You’ll be glad for it the day after the election. Also the only “cosplay” here is reason pretending to be a serious journal.

    1. Yes, we should be grateful to BLM and Antifa for showing us the necessity of buying shinier jackboots for the jackbooted thugs. Great job, folks! You’re doing the Lord’s work here!

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  2. Until we reform the police better that they dress that way.

  3. I’m of the opinion that any weapon cops can have so can the public. That would be a great ‘stimulus’. Weapons and the extras.

    1. ” . . . shall not be infringed . . . “

  4. …and the proverbial Joe Sixpack’s reaction will be, “why don’t they start using this cool equipment against the rioters?”

    1. And they would be right.

      1. John, I know you hate the looters, but ordering an artillery strike on them is excessive. The looters are being enabled by lax policies that refuse to punish them for their lawlessness. All we need is the law being enforced, and these riots will naturally be weaned as more lawbreakers are jailed or scared off by threat of prison.

        1. True artillery, maybe; but an 88mm mortar round can be laser guided, so – – – – –

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        2. We had to destroy the mall to save the mall (from looters).

  5. I used to be really against the police having this equipment. But after this summer and the Burn Loot Murder movement and it’s antifa cousins, this sort of equipment looks pretty necessary. You can’t send cops out in regular cars when the mobs of violent retards are throwing fire bombs and looking to ambush and murder them.

    Whatever public concern there was over the militarization of the police likely evaporated this summer.

    1. The state militia and National Guard should be handling the rioters, not the police.

    2. “You can’t send cops out in regular cars when the mobs of violent retards are throwing fire bombs and looking to ambush and murder them.”

      Meh. A single MRAP or two isn’t going to be useful in widespread riots. And I am unwilling to allow the police to stock a battalion of them. If your city is degraded to the point that police are unable to keep the police, then it is time for the National Guard.

      The problem is that **NO** city has degraded to this point. The police are perfectly capable of knocking this shit off if they have the option. Their leaders are not giving them the option. If a person runs at you with a molotov or a knife, as a police officer, you have the ability to stop them. But too many police are sure that they will prosecuted for shooting a person charging with a deadly weapon.

      But I agree that the public debate is over for this. The liberal cities that many of these Reason writers love have actually made the public more likely to support bullshit militarization of the police. The sad thing is that many of them, early on, were quietly muttering that civil unrest like this usually helps the Law and Order types. But they just couldn’t speak vehemently about it, I guess, because that would have put them uncomfortably close to agreement with Orange Man.

      FWIW: I was tolerant of the civil unrest for the first week- but for it to go on for over a month led me to the conclusion that the leaders of these cities were encouraging it, and that is why we are where we are today.

    3. Have you actually looked at any of the riots? This gear is largely useless for the purpose of riot control.

      No, our concern of the militarization of the police has not “evaporated”. If anything, it became stronger as more evidence emerged of the cultural problems in police departments all across the US.

      1. Marxist riots and selective application of the law are cultural problems that quickly and vastly overtook whatever police cultural problems exist

  6. We should have a buyback program for the public to get their hands on some of this stuff, now that all the Uncle Sam’s stores have closed.

  7. The Republicans don’t want to stop police militarization because they want to be seen as “Tough On Crime”.

    The Democrats don’t want to stop police militarization because their endgame is an authoritarian police state.

    1. Even though they deny it, militarization of the police is the only logical end game to the current policies in these leftist cities. If the police aren’t allowed to shoot people attacking with rocks and molotovs and knives, then they need protection. Which means riot gear, and fireproof tanks. The police will take that gear all day long to protect themselves, and they will then be placed where they can protect the powerful and connected, while the mobs charge around the rest of the city.

    2. Good analysis. Pretty much sums it up.

  8. those armored vehicles should goto the Community.

    1. They do. Every time you break that law or refuse to respect their “authoritah”

      1. not INTO the Community lol

  9. And who was a big supporter of the 1033 program?

    Why that would be Joe Biden.

    1. Has anybody at Reason ever said that a Biden/Harris ticket wouldn’t be a disaster on criminal justice issues?

  10. “That includes 1,114 armored personnel carriers.”

    If only the Founders had included our parking spaces as well as our homes in the Third Amendment.

    “The history of totalitarian regimes is reflected in the evolution and perfection of the instruments of terror and more especially the police.”
    ~ Carl J. Friedrich

  11. Artillery? Wow, you guys really like to exaggerate. But I can see why everyone is upset the police aren’t made to confront crowds whose apparent desire is to physically attack them with rocks, bottle and commercial fireworks while dressed as Officer Joe Bolton in a black and white Ford. After all, a firework that simply bounces off an MRAP or a frozen water bottle which hits its mark but does little when it hits a military style helmet just ain’t fair.
    Damn! and I told myself I wouldn’t get all snarky and sarcastic. But really, I have yet to see a 50 cal or a grenade launcher deployed in an American street lately. And desert sand or jungle camouflage really is just silly on an city street.

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