Obama to Pentagon: Stop Giving Grenade Launchers to Local Police Forces
Policy + Politics

Obama to Pentagon: Stop Giving Grenade Launchers to Local Police Forces

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Local police departments in America will no longer be able to "declare war" on a neighboring town with grenade launchers, tanks and other armor from the Pentagon.

The White House announced this morning that it will begin scaling back a controversial Pentagon program that has doled out more than $4.5 billion worth of surplus military equipment to local police departments across the country. 

Related: 10 Military Weapons You Won't Believe the Police Have Access To 

The Defense Department’s 1033 program came under the spotlight last fall in the wake of the militarized response to the protests over the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. 

Images of the St. Louis suburb invaded by patrol officers donning military-style fatigues and driving armored vehicles designed for the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan shocked Americans and prompted lawmakers to review the Pentagon second-hand equipment program. 

Now, the White House is placing a ban on the transfer of some surplus military equipment including grenade launchers, armored vehicles, aircraft, bayonets, and certain kinds of guns and ammo. The president’s actions would not require police departments currently possessing that equipment to be returned. It just bans the transfer of that equipment going forward. 

A document obtained by The Fiscal Times from Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) office last year detailed a spate of small town police departments storing seemingly unnecessary surplus Pentagon equipment in their garages for years. In one example, a small Pennsylvania County police department received an MRAP, despite having just five police officers. 

Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle – Defense Industry Daily 

A separate report by the White House released last December, revealed a serious lack of oversight of several military equipment transfer programs, including 1033 that has potentially placed DOD surplus weapons into the wrong hands.

In one example, a sheriff in Illinois was suspended for allegedly lending government-issued M-14 rifles to his friends, the Associated Press reported. 

Related: The Pentagon Equipped Ferguson’s Police Dept. 

The reports of lax oversight and potential abuse prompted the White House to form a working group tasked with making reforms to the program. Today’s announcement is the product of the working group. The group said in a statement that it found there is a “substantial risk of misusing or overusing these items.” 

The White House is also adding new guidelines to the program to keep better track of the equipment, as well as how well police department’s are prepared and trained to use it. 

The group defended eliminating the program, saying that some of the equipment, including surplus body armor, “enhances the safety of officers,” who might be responding to dangerous situations. 

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