A few weeks ago, I wrote my congresscritters regarding the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program, expressing a desire to end the transfer of military-grade tactical gear to state and local police departments. I haven’t heard back from my Senators yet, but my Representative, Jaime Herrera Beutler, responded:
Dear Mr. Ward,
Thank you for contacting me about the Department of Defense’s 1033 program and recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. It is an honor to serve as Southwest Washington’s representative in Congress, and your thoughts are important to me.
I share your concerns regarding the militarization of local law enforcement. There is a fine line between keeping our communities safe and utilizing overwhelming, unnecessary force against our citizens.
The Department of Defense operates the 1033 program to provide local law enforcement agencies with the ability to obtain excess equipment and weapons the military no longer requires. As you know, this program has been brought under heavy scrutiny since the killing of Michael Brown, an eighteen-year-old from Ferguson, Missouri by a local law enforcement officer. Since then, we’ve seen footage of officers of St. Louis County law enforcement equipped with body armor, tear gas, and armored vehicles in response to violent protests and riots spurred by the shooting.
The program has been operated by the Defense Logistics Agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office since 1990, and now over 8,000 federal and state law enforcement agencies in all 50 states participate. While the 1033 program provides combat equipment, it also supplies office furniture, generators, and copiers which some agencies may be unable to afford.
The use of force by police deserves ongoing scrutiny, and police forces should be accountable to the communities they serve to ensure that all citizens are receiving adequate protection. We’ve seen that the tragic incident and subsequent protests in Ferguson have forced local police forces to consider their posture toward and interaction with their local communities, and I hope this continues. Law enforcement agencies must judiciously deploy the weapons and equipment they receive. While a proportional response should be used to stop criminals rioting, shooting innocent people, looting, and throwing Molotov cocktails, the excessive use of tactical weapons when simply protecting peaceful protests exercising their First Amendment right is unacceptable. I will continue to monitor the situation in Ferguson as the investigation continues and will work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that the 1033 program is reviewed and properly utilized, with the protection of all citizens as the utmost goal.
Thank you again for contacting me on this important issue. I invite you to visit my website at www.jhb.house.gov for additional information or to sign up to be kept up to date on this important issue. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of assistance.
Jaime Herrera Beutler
Member of Congress
A few thoughts on this response:
- She has a valid point which is that this particular program is used for other supplies, which I have no particular objection to; I did not consider that case in my original letter
- She seems to just be interested in more oversight of the existing 1033 program, and will not support significantly modifying the program or similar programs to prevent the transfer of tactical weapons and gear
- She seems fine with the use of military equipment by police in the abstract, but agrees that the response in Ferguson was disproportionate… which is at least better than some members of her party’s commentariat
- She did not address my concerns about SWAT tactics at all, or a militarized policing stance in general, focusing solely on the specific events in Ferguson
I haven’t decided yet if I’ll write back. It does not sound like she will entertain a significant curtailment of this kind of policy. I think the next step for me is to write my state and local reps to discourage them from requisitioning military weapons and vehicles.