Militarization of Police

ACLU Study Finds Obama-Era Restrictions Failed To Slow Flow of Military Gear to Police

The study comes as House Democrats press to completely abolish the Pentagon program.


Obama-era restrictions on the transfer of surplus military equipment to police departments failed to slow the flow of gear to police, according to a new analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The study examines the Department of Defense's 1033 program, through which police departments can receive free military surplus. The study found that, although the Obama administration limited some of the most controversial equipment, those restrictions were so narrow that they had little effect on the pipeline.

"The quantity of military transfers to local police departments has decreased over time following the slowing demobilization from war, but the Obama-era reforms have done little to keep dangerous military equipment off of America's streets," the report says. "And contrary to the claims of its supporters, 1033 does nothing to make communities or officers safer."

The report comes as civil liberties groups press to end the 1033 program. The Hill reports that Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D–N.Y.), joined by 17 other House Democrats, is introducing legislation today that would completely repeal the 1033 program.

The 1033 provides surplus military equipment for free to law enforcement agencies. The majority of that stuff is mundane: things like filing cabinets, coffee makers, and cold-weather gear. But it also includes "controlled" items such as weapons and vehicles. From 2011 to 2014 alone, the program distributed more than 29,000 military-grade rifles, the report says.

Those law enforcement agencies include ones attached to K-12 schools and universities.

"Eighty institutions of higher education currently possess seven less-lethal firing devices, six mine-resistant vehicles, an armored truck, another combat vehicle, 159 shotguns and pistols, and 622 assault rifles," the report says. "Nine K-12 schools' police officers have 96 assault rifles, and one K-12 school—Spring Branch ISD—received a mine resistant vehicle in 2019."

The Obama administration limited the program in 2015 amid growing public concern over police militarization. Iconic photographs from the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, showed police with armored vehicles, body armor, and military-grade rifles. The executive order prohibited the transfer of such items as camouflage, .50-caliber ammunition, tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and bayonets. Police departments in possession of such materiel were asked to return the goods.

The return of equipment was unpopular with police departments. The Trump administration, which courted support from law enforcement, rescinded the executive order in 2017.

The ACLU's study found that, despite the limitations, the 1033 program still transferred more than 100,000 controlled military items worth more than $576 million from the enactment of the 2015 reforms to their repeal in 2017.

"Very little equipment was actually banned by the [executive order], and even the equipment that the [executive order] specifically restricted does not appear to have decreased substantially, in large part because law enforcement agencies easily circumvented new oversight protocols," the report says.

The ACLU points to incidents during last summer's protests over the death of George Floyd, such as the time the Austin police critically injured a 20-year-old protester with a "less-lethal" weapon. At the time, the Austin Police Department had five such weapons in its possession that had been transferred through the 1033 program.

A study last year by Brown University's Costs of War project found that $1.6 billion worth of controlled equipment is in circulation among U.S. police departments.

That includes 1,114 mine-resistant, armored-protective vehicles (MRAPs)—hulking armored personnel carriers designed to survive bomb blasts on the roads of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The ACLU recommends that the 1033 program be abolished. In the meantime, it says, President Joe Biden should place a moratorium on 1033 transfers and recall or destroy controlled equipment already in circulation.

Last month, more than two dozen House Democrats sent a letter to Biden urging him to sign an executive order placing limits on the program.

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27 responses to “ACLU Study Finds Obama-Era Restrictions Failed To Slow Flow of Military Gear to Police

  1. >>Obama-era restrictions … failed to slow the flow of gear to police

    mission accomplished

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  2. It’s almost like Obama only did everything for the purpose of virtue signaling, while doing nothing to change the status quo of ever increasing government

    1. It’s almost like Obama only did everything for the purpose of virtue signaling, while simultaneously doing everything he could to accelerate the growth of ever increasing government


      1. TLDR version; Obama is a lying scumbag.

    2. The current claim is that this stuff is still increasingly being used to police black communities at a higher rate under Biden, so yes.

      1. It’s to protect his precious golden leg hairs.

  3. Hey CJ, Obama also failed to stop dropping bombs on civilians in neutral countries or punish any CIA agent for torturing captive prisoners. Everyone knows he’s scum.

    1. Day 1 he closed Guantomimo though…

      1. Let’s not forget: he also ended the horrible surveillance program that GWB’s Patriot Act enacted. He ran his campaign on putting a stop to that, and he sure as hell followed through and got it done.

        1. Let’s hear it for Obama!

  4. Local police should get this stuff. I mean, there was that killdozer incident. One can never be too prepared.

  5. “The study found that, although the Obama administration limited some of the most controversial equipment, those restrictions were so narrow that they had little effect on the pipeline.”

    OK, I suppose this is one of the very few issues on which it’s fair to criticize Obama.

    At least he never put kids in cages though.


    1. Absolutely no scandals whatsoever!!

      1. Obama’s only “scandal” was wearing a tan suit.


        1. It had a nice crease in the pant legs.

  6. We once learned, but have all too nearly forgotten, the risks of having multitudes of the the king’s men heavily armed with both weapons and impunity stationed among us.

    “It is always dangerous to the liberties of the people to have an army stationed among them, over which they have no control …”
    ~ Samuel Adams

    Expecting politicians, who are utterly dependent on the police for their protection and the enforcement of their whims, to willingly and meaningfully limit their powers of oppression is naive.

  7. Less surplus equipment to the cops, more to the citizens who paid for it.
    Put all that stuff into the CMP program.

    1. They’ll just feed it to Captain Crunch.

      I’m LOL’ing at Spring Branch (suburb of Houston) getting an MRAP. Talk about a white elephant.

      Unless the vehicle’s going to help net them more speeders, I can’t imagine they’ll see it as anything but a giant loss. Hopefully, these geniuses won’t accidentally go off road into one of the numerous drainage ditches going through the area, and roll the sonofabitch.

    2. Oh, and I don’t get the pearl-clutching over the cops getting rifles. The problem with modern American law enforcement is their willingness to use deadly force in the first place. Not because they choose to use deadly force with a more accurate, effective method.

      1. The problem is that once you give someone a toy, they want to play with it. They inevitably find more excuses to play with it in ever less plausible situations. In short, yes the problem is an excessive willingness to use deadly force – and giving them these weapons makes that abuse even more likely than it already was.

      2. These are _real_ assault rifles: shoulder-fired machine guns. Use the full-auto or 3-round mode in a city and you’re nearly as likely to hit innocent bystanders as your target. Leave them in semi-auto mode and they are pretty good rifles for someone trained to use them – but that requires regularly firing 500+ rounds at the firing range. Most PDs won’t pay for a tenth of the ammo needed to achieve and maintain proficiency.

        If the military ammo is distributed with the guns, there’s another problem. The Hague Convention and successors have restricted the military to ball ammunition for small arms for about 125 years. This will pass through a body and endanger what is behind it. It will pass through walls and kill people the shooter cannot even see. Cops should be using hollow point so the bullet stays in the first substantial item it hits, but you don’t get that from military suppliers.

  8. CMP could use some of the old beretta’s and colts coming out of circulation.

  9. One of the few times I will agree with the liberal left-wing Democratic Reason. The police should be the police, not an occupying army.

  10. I believe this issue has its roots in keeping the money flowing to defense contractors. How much of this surplus equipment is supplied primarily to allow the military to buy new weapons? The police have little need for this weaponry and the taxpayer has no need to be paying for it.

  11. “ACLU Study Finds Obama-Era Restrictions Failed”

    That’s true.

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