Congress has been second-guessing its decision to arm state and local police departments with military-grade weapons, which has caused the brass for these agencies to send in the big guns, so to speak, in order to fight to stay militarized. Last week, the National Tactical Officers Association, the lobby group that keeps SWAT teams employed, sent an emailed statement to members of the legislature begging them not to take away their toys.
“The police have to be one step ahead of the criminal element, have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario,” NTOA Executive Director Mark Lomax told The Daily Beast. “You don’t want a community to be taken over by one or many criminals. “ We’re definitely for equipping our law enforcement officials out there properly, with proper training and proper policies.”
For the past 25 years, the federal government has been providing law enforcement with an arsenal of firepower to combat the drug war that was previously only available to the US military. Yet, as reports of misuse and violence against innocent citizens have continued to become more frequent in recent years, some Washington lawmakers want to pull in the reins on the distribution of military weapons to local police departments.
Some legislators, like Republican Senator Rand Paul, want to impose legislation that would ban the transfer of military weapons to state and municipal police departments, while Democrats are considering a push to reform the Pentagon’s 1033 program, which has essentially turned America into a high-powered war zone.
“Congress established this program out of real concern that local law enforcement agencies were literally outgunned by drug criminals,” Democratic Senator Carl Levin said in a statement. “We will review this program to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended.”
Even in the deepest trenches of civil unrest, like what we have seen over the past week in Ferguson, Malik Aziz, with the National Black Police Association, says there should never be any reason to implement the use of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) assault vehicles to maintain order within a community.
“There [is] no need to roll in urban warfare equipment anticipating and wanting a battle with citizens who only demand answers,” said Aziz. “In many cities the acquisition of these MRAPs and other tools are almost useless… Most of these MRAPs are too big and bulky and not designed for urban environments.”
Yet, many police agencies disagree, claiming that the only people who should feel threatened by MRAPs are criminals. “The presence of an MRAP for defensive positioning should not unnerve a law-abiding citizen,” said Jon Adler, with the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. “Police officers are human and bleed like everyone else. They deserve the best protection from violent assaults, and providing them with MRAPs or advanced body armor minimizes their exposure to serious injury or death.”
Ultimately, the National Tactical Officers Association, which protects the interests of 1,600 SWAT teams, is worried that all of the negative press surrounding the militarization of the America police force will cause Congress to strip them of what they believe to be crucial equipment. The group insists that better “training” is a better solution to dismantling the program.
“The appropriate compromise is, let’s talk about training, which is not part of the original 1033 program,” said Lomax. “[Let’s not] throw the baby out with the bathwater… We believe that the 1033 program has done a lot for law enforcement over the last 20 years, and that it should continue, with reservations.”