U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia, District-4, will introduce a bill to House members that’s taking aim at the Pentagon’s 1033 Program, which gives military-grade weapons and equipment to state and local law enforcement departments for free.
The goal of the bi-partisan legislation isn’t to do away with the 1033 program, said Andy Phelan, communications director for Johnson, but to only reform it.
Phelan said that Johnson wants to stop letting local police receive surplus U.S. military equipment, such as Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAPs, vehicles, Humvees and automatic weapons from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, to be transferred to local police departments free of charge.
Police departments have also received grenade launchers, which are usually used for smoke grenades and tear gas.
Congressman Johnson’s proposed legislation will also add requirements to enforce tracking mechanisms that keep up with and control transfers of the equipment given to local agencies, implement policies ensuring that police agencies can’t sell the surplus equipment they receive and define drones more clearly.
“Militarizing America’s main streets won’t make us any safer, just more fearful and more reticent,” Johnson said in a press release announcing the bill Aug. 20. “Before another small town’s police force gets a $700,000 gift from the Defense Department that it can’t maintain or manage, it behooves us to press pause on Pentagon’s 1033 program and revisit the merits of a militarized America.”
In 2012, an Arizona sheriff was accused of distributing Humvees, fire trucks, medical equipment and other supplies in violation of the programs rules.
“If we are going to give military equipment away for free, surely we must ensure that local police organizations are using the equipment properly and can account for this equipment,” the congressman asked his colleagues in a letter obtained by The News.
Johnson will officially introduce the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act of 2014 bill Sept. 8 when the House reconvenes its session. Republican Rep. Raúl Labrador of Idaho will be a co-sponsor.
Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed interest in the bill, says Phelan, but it’s hard to determine the actual interest until the bill is on the floor and everyone is in the room.
“We’re continuing to work to get more co-sponsors,” he said.
Johnson first expressed interest in reforming the 1033 program in March when he co-wrote an opinion piece about his desire to reform the program.
The events that have been happening Ferguson, Missouri, where protesters of the Michael Brownslaying, an unarmed 18-year-old who was shot multiple times and killed by Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson, are being met with military-grade weapons, made it clear to Johnson that local law enforcement was becoming more military than police.