Maryland Bills Would Take the First Step Toward Withdrawing State from Federal Police Militarization Program

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Last week, two bills that would take the first step toward withdrawing the state from federal programs that militarize state and local police received committee hearings.

A coalition of seven Democrats introduced House Bill 138 (HB138) on Jan. 21, and Sen. Susan Lee (D) introduced the companion, Senate Bill 210 (SB210) on Jan. 24. Under the proposed law, any law enforcement agency acquiring equipment from a federal military surplus program would be required to report the acquisition within 14 days on a publically accessible website. The legislation would also require any law enforcement agency acquiring military surplus equipment within a calendar year to submit a report to both the governor and the Maryland general assembly.

HB138/SB210 would apply both to the well-known 1033 program, along with any other military surplus program operated by the federal government.

While passage of the legislation would not create any mechanism to stop local police from acquiring military surplus equipment, it would take an important first step in that direction by ensuring that it doesn’t happen in secret.  By increasing transparency, the legislation would allow Marylanders to actually see the reality of police militarization. As the saying goes, sunlight is the best antiseptic. Transparency often creates the momentum needed to drive future change.

On Feb. 5, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held a hearing on SB210. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on HB138 the same day.

FEDERAL SURPLUS AND GRANT MONEY

Through the federal 1033 Program, local police departments procure military grade weapons. 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.

HB138/SB210 would stop this program from operating in secrecy in Maryland, and created a framework for accountability and transparency. It would also create a foundation for the public to stop their local police from obtaining this type of gear.

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.”

By making it more difficult for local police to get this military-grade gear and surveillance technology, and ensuring they can’t do it in secret, it makes them less likely to cooperate with the feds and removes incentives for partnerships. Passage of HB138/SB210 would take a first step toward limiting police militarization in Maryland.

WHAT’S NEXT

The House Judiciary Committee will need to approve HB138 by a majority vote and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will need to approve SB210 by a majority vote before the bills move forward in the legislative process.

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