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Obama Won’t Demilitarize Police

Spying has sometimes been described as the realm of smoke and mirrors, but the expression might equally be applied to politics in Washington. President Obama appeared to be aligning himself with the critics of the growing militarization of police forces in the United States when he spoke in Camden, New Jersey on May 18. He declared that his administration would henceforth limit the types of surplus military equipment given to police departments as part of a program referred to as “1033.” The program, which has transferred material worth $18 billion, takes its name from and is funded through section 1033 of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act.   

Equipping the police with military weapons began even earlier, however, with the 1990 defense spending bill, when a surge in the activity of violent drug gangs left the police outgunned and lacking the resources to purchase items like body armor, night-vision goggles, and automatic weapons to match those used by their adversaries. The program inevitably grew post-9/11 and was justified as an appropriate anti-terrorist measure under the aegis of the Defense and Homeland Security Departments. To respond to the new security environment, the transfers began to incorporate heavier equipment, including armored vehicles.

The heavily armed police on display during the recent riots in Ferguson, Missouri prompted Obama to establish in January a working group—headed by the attorney general and secretary of defense—seeking to find a middle ground between legitimate police needs and the widespread perception that law enforcement has become an occupying army. It focused on procurement, training, inventory control, and potential civil-rights violations. The group’s 50-page report, “Recommendations Pursuant to Executive Order 13688 Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition,” was released to coincide with Obama’s Camden visit. The White House declared that it had taken major steps to demilitarize the police, and the media largely endorsed that narrative.

But was that what really happened? thisarticleappears [1]

Certain weapons systems and peripherals have been placed on a list of prohibited items, including tracked armored vehicles, firearms and ammunition of .50 caliber or higher, grenade launchers, military-specification equipped and armed vehicles, bayonets, and camouflage uniforms. As police forces, with very rare exceptions, do not have any of the equipment that is now banned, the list is basically irrelevant. The curious inclusion of camouflage uniforms was intended to distinguish policemen from soldiers.

The group also recommended that access to other weapons be more strictly controlled. Airplanes, helicopters, armored vehicles on wheels, drones, riot gear, battering rams, special-purpose firearms, and command vehicles are all acceptable as long as the police department fills out the forms required to validate the transfer and makes sure its personnel are properly trained to handle the equipment. Any police force can acquire the surplus gear, with the sole exception of those providing security for public school systems.

So the widely ballyhooed first step in the demilitarization of police follows the pattern of misdirection that has become characteristic of the Obama administration. Equipment that no one uses or even desires has been banned, while everything else is still available, as long as one is willing to do the required paperwork and endure the approval process.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Obama Won’t Demilitarize Police"

#1 Comment By Uncle Billy On June 23, 2015 @ 7:55 am

The police in so many cities have become armies of occupation, complete with armored vehicles, automatic weapons, and an arrogant attitude. Community policing, where the officer on the beat, knew the local merchants, citizens, what their problems were, etc. has gone. We now have zero tolerance policing, where SWAT teams stage commando raids over small amounts of marijuana, small stakes poker games, etc.

Citizens who are unlucky enough to cross paths with the police, are often beaten up for trivial reasons or no reason at all. All in the name of “public safety.” And they wonder why citizens resent the police?

#2 Comment By Jim Bovard On June 23, 2015 @ 11:11 am

Excellent piece, Phil! At least I don’t have to worry about being bayoneted the next time I’m pulled over by a traffic cop.

#3 Comment By Cliff On June 23, 2015 @ 12:01 pm

“the widespread perception that law enforcement has become an occupying army”

This was Huey Newton’s perception fifty years ago. Indeed, the Panthers were founded, in a time before cellphone cameras, to simply keep an eye on the police and what they did.

“The curious inclusion of camouflage uniforms was intended to distinguish policemen from soldiers.”

Are they anticipating a time when the military will join the police on our city streets?

#4 Comment By RINO_InNameOnly On June 23, 2015 @ 12:23 pm

Thank you, I have had so many arguments about this and so many people think the Obama orders are actually accomplishing something.

All they really were meant to do was ‘end the debate’ on the Democrats terms, no solution. Of course, liberals don’t actually view this as a problem, mostly it is just inconvenient that people noticed.

#5 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 23, 2015 @ 2:33 pm

This is what passes for gun control – for thee, but not for me.

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On June 23, 2015 @ 7:51 pm

The power of police unions combined with their links to the military —

makes for serious advocacy anywhere and everywhere. All one needs for icing on this cake is the constant pouring of imminent danger and constant fear of the unknown, while blowing up the knowns.

“Citizens who are unlucky enough to cross paths with the police, are often beaten up for trivial reasons or no reason at all.”

Well, a bruised ego for being held accountable seems sufficient.


#7 Comment By Patrick D On June 24, 2015 @ 2:34 pm

“…constant pouring of imminent danger and constant fear of the unknown, while blowing up the knowns.”

Well put, EliteCommInc. I’ve been looking for the words for awhile.

#8 Comment By Michael N Moore On June 24, 2015 @ 5:07 pm

The hope once was that our country would racily integrate through the upward mobility of African-Americans. The sad fact is that we are integrating via the downward mobility of White Americans. Blacks represent the hard core of the underclass and get the spear tip of repression, but the militarized police force is aimed at all of us. Our business and political leaders know that they have screwed the country and they are growing more and more afraid of us.


#9 Comment By UnpartisanedBastard On June 24, 2015 @ 6:13 pm

Partisanship is what got us here… and it will keep us here until we all lock arms together. Double entendre acknowledged.