In the past decade, the federal government has sent about $2.2 billion of military equipment to local police departments across the United States.
That includes armored vehicles, helicopters, machine guns, rifles, and mine detectors, among other gear, according to Reason.
“With the increase in military spending post-9/11/01, and the subsequent scaling back of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military has far more equipment than it needs, which means police in cities big and small can load up on state-of-the-art war machines, tactical gear, guns, and explosives,” Anthony L. Fisher wrote.
Local police forces get the overflow from the Pentagon’s largesse.
The report that detailed this militarization of the police was published by Open the Books, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that tracks government spending.
“New federal data shows that 2014 and 2015 were peak years for shipments of surplus military gear to local police departments across America,” the report noted.
In total, more than “6,400 police agencies received military equipment.”
Local police departments aren’t the only ones benefitting from the equipment transfers. Universities have bolstered their arsenal, too.
The University of California at Berkeley, for instance, received 14 M16/M14 rifles from the Department of Defense in 2006.
Some of the equipment, such as infrared telescopes, night-vision sights, binoculars, and goggles are high-tech accessories to assist officers in surveillance. Though expensive, they aren’t jarring to discover in the transfers. Others, such as 329 armored trucks and cars, 625 mine resistant vehicles, or 500 M16/M14 rifles to the Washington D.C. police department, raise concerns about why police departments need such equipment. Or how the high-powered weapons could affect police interaction with the public and criminals alike.
Some are strange. The Department of Defense distributed 5,638 bayonets and 36 swords and scabbards, too.
Florida received the most surplus gear according to total value. The Sunshine State found itself in possession of $304 million of equipment, followed by $171 million of gear in Texas, $163 million in California, and $141 million in Tennessee. Arizona and Virginia also received more than $100 million in gear.
For citizens concerned about the equipment overflow, Open the Books created a map, searchable by ZIP code, to search which departments received what equipment.
The glut has benefited small town police forces who think they need equipment for any possible scenario. Gallia, Ohio, for instance, a 30,000-person town in southern Ohio, received a “mine resistant vehicle,” valued at $733,000, in 2014. The Independence County Sheriff’s Department in Arkansas, which serves a population of 30,000 people, also nabbed an MRV in 2014.
Many police departments justify the equipment requests to the federal government by citing their uses for the war on drugs. Publicly, however, they talk about the threats of shootouts or hostage situations.
“Liberals tend to raise civil liberties concerns while conservatives question why the federal government is involving itself in area of responsibility traditionally reserved for states and local communities. Both sides would probably agree that the federal government itself has become a ‘gun show’ that never adjourns and is distributing massive amounts of firepower to local police departments,” the report noted.
The danger from those transfers come from how police departments relate to the communities they serve. When a natural disaster hits an area, armored vehicles can navigate damaged roads and rescue civilians. When departments are armed to the teeth with the latest military technology, however, they find justifications for its use. That can escalate situations that were previously resolved with less force.
In another decade, the distributions could include weaponized drones.