ST. PAUL, Minn. (Feb. 28, 2018) – A bill introduced in the Minnesota Senate would bar state and local law enforcement agencies from acquiring “military grade weapons” through federal military surplus programs.
Sen. Jerry Newton (D-Coon Rapids) introduced Senate Bill 2615 (SF2615) on Feb. 22. The legislation would prohibit a Minnesota state or local unit of government or a law enforcement agency from acquiring military-grade weapons pursuant to a military equipment surplus program operated by the federal government. SF2615 defines military grade weapons as “militarily equipped vehicles and aircraft, weapons, and other objects designed to primarily have a military purpose or offensive capability, and ammunition.”
The provisions of SF2615 would apply to military equipment available both through the well-known 1033 program, along with any other military surplus program operated by the federal government.
The proposed law would likely require additional steps to create a process to determine specifically what equipment falls under the definition of “military grade.”
FEDERAL SURPLUS AND GRANT MONEY
Through the federal 1033 Program, local police departments procure military grade weapons, including automatic assault rifles, body armor and mine-resistant armored vehicles – essentially unarmed tanks. Police departments can even get their hands on military helicopters and other aircraft.
Police can also get military equipment through the Department of Homeland Security via the (DHS) “Homeland Security Grant Program.” In 2013, DHS gave more than $900 million in counterterrorism funds to state and local police. According to a 2012 Senate report, this money has been used to purchase tactical vehicles, drones, and even tanks with little obvious benefit to public safety. And, according to ProPublica, “In 1994, the Justice Department and the Pentagon-funded a five-year program to adapt military security and surveillance technology for local police departments that they would otherwise not be able to afford.”
In August 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that gave a push to local police militarization. Trump’s action rescinded an Obama-era policy meant to provide greater transparency and oversight around the Department of Defense 1033 program and other federal resources that provide military weapons to local police.
Passage of SF2615 would take the first step toward limiting police militarization by prohibiting Minnesota police departments from getting military equipment from both programs.
COMMAND AND CONTROL
Arming ‘peace officers’ like they’re ready to occupy an enemy city is totally contrary to the society envisioned by the founders. They’ve turned ‘protect and serve’ into ‘command and control.’
In the 1980s, the federal government began arming, funding and training local police forces, turning peace officers into soldiers to fight in its unconstitutional “War on Drugs.” The militarization went into hyper-drive after 9/11 when a second front opened up – the “War on Terror.”
Making it more difficult for local police to acquire this military-grade gear will make them less likely to cooperate with the feds by removing some of the incentives for partnerships. Passage of SF2615 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in Minnesota.
SF2615 was referred to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee. It will need to by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.