That escalated quickly: federal program arms cops as soldiers

Michael Ross, Staff Writer

The 1033 program has served United States police departments in one form or another since the early 1990s.

The purpose of this program is to provide military-grade resources to police departments, at the price of shipping and storage.

These resources, varying from night vision apparatus to Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, come from excess Department of Defense stockpiles.

The program is intended to assist especially in instances of counter-drug and counter-terrorism efforts.

A summary  prepared by the Congressional Research Service lists the total materials available under 1033s authority.

The total equipment available ranges from the mundane, such as furniture, kitchen and office supplies, portable electric generators and tents, to more law enforcement-appropriate supplies, such as handcuffs, riot shields, holsters, binoculars and digital cameras, to the absurdly militaristic, such as watercraft, aircraft and weapons.

Other pieces of equipment filed as miscellaneous under the program include cranes, lawn maintenance supplies and tool kits.

Crawford County, for its part, has received one 5.56 mm rifle. Pennsylvania as a whole has received a large amount of equipment, including four MRAP vehicles. Each MRAP vehicle is valued at $733,000. This information comes from the, where one can find a list of the equipment sent to one’s own state or county.

While the 1033 program has been in operation for over a decade, it did not receive significant public attention until the Ferguson, Missouri riots in 2014, when a heavily militarized police force in action was first brought to the attention of the American public.

As a result, the Obama administration began reviewing the program providing equipment to police departments across the U.S.

This resulted in the assertion of local officials that the lives of their policemen and women were being put in jeopardy due to lack of sufficient equipment.

Do police departments need military equipment to do their jobs? Certainly, their possession of this equipment increases the likelihood they will use it, which seems dangerous in itself.

I cannot think of a better way to describe the situation than reporter Taylor Wofford’s keen metaphor in Newsweek.

When your only tool is a hammer,” Wofford wrote, “after all, every problem looks like a nail.