With the turmoil in Ferguson, the concern regarding a vastly over-armed police force, or even militarized police force, has become a rife topic for debate. While the argument over providing officials with firepower has been a debate for some time, The Economist has taken to explaining how America’s police forces became so well armed, regardless of your position in the argument.
The article explains:
Between 2002 and 2011 the Department of Homeland Security, established after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, disbursed more than $35 billion in grants to state and local police forces. In addition, the "1033 programme" allows the Defence Department to distribute surplus equipment to local police departments for use in counter-terrorism and counter-drug activities.
On the surface, this makes sense – equip police with military-grade technology (which is typically more advanced than civilian tech) to assist in keeping the peace. But, as with so many things, the devil is in the details.
According to The Economist, the American Civil Liberties Union found that the value of military equipment used by American police departments has risen from $1M in 1990 to nearly $450M in 2013.
Our country’s bloated (and ever-growing) military infrastructure doesn’t want to find itself in the expendable column of political debate, which is (arguably) why the defense industry donates millions of dollars to politicians, and spends even more on lobbyists.
Major manufacturers of military equipment are often proponents of impressive innovation, production, and job creation, but most of their attention (like any good business) is paid to the bottom line – which relies heavily on government contracts. These government contracts can easily be maintained by a bit of politician funding, and often assure a base for companies, as they produce an over-abundant amount of new equipment to our armed forces. This new (and arguably unneeded) equipment pushes older (still useful) equipment to the wayside, and into the eager hands of police forces throughout the country.
Manufacturing.net’s home office is based in Madison, WI, which is not the most politically calm area in the country, but I have never seen a need for the armored trucks, with tires bigger than my Honda Civic, that occasionally roll through downtown.
I make my best efforts to not obligatorily choose a side in politics, but I can’t help but agree (surprisingly) with Rand Paul, who has said that “it is time to demilitarize the police.” With that being said (and Mr. Paul may or may not agree with me here), the best way to end this militarization seems to be by cutting back the massive production of military technology. This is not ideal for those major manufacturers that produce this hardware, nor is it good for those employed by those companies, but change is rarely easy.
While some might blame the issues in Ferguson on police that are improperly trained – armed forces veterans have stated that the officers in the Missouri town were “intimidating the crowd rather than controlling it.” It can’t be denied that a lot of this intimidation power wouldn’t exist without the arsenal that has been donated or discounted for these agencies.
Do you think the growing militarization of our police can be stopped by cutting down on military manufacturing? Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.