Why police agencies are well served by the 1033 Program
Some agencies rely on the 1033 program to support the operational needs of their departments SWAT Teams, Marine Units, and other special operations units
We’ve often heard that “it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have.” In my experience, that is a good assessment when you’re in the business of saving lives and responding to threats.
In estimating the costs to run a law enforcement agency, I would calculate that approximately 70-80 percent of an agency’s budget is dedicated to personnel salaries and benefits. Taking this into consideration, there are often insufficient discretionary funds to purchase needed equipment and training: vehicles, equipment, fuel, tires, facilities, computers, paper, technology, software licensing, as well as critical items such as weapons, ammunition, training and education.
The majority of law enforcement agencies in America employ less than 200 sworn personnel. These agencies rely on the 1033 program for equipment necessary to carry out their law enforcement mission.
Section 1033 of the National Defense Act of 1997 authorizes the Department of the Defense to transfer excess (used) military property to state and local law enforcement agencies. The program helps agencies bridge the financial gap to obtain needed equipment in addition to weapons and ammunition including uniform and safety equipment, personal protective equipment (in response to hazardous materials environments), and additional safety equipment and communications systems (in response to critical incidents and natural disasters). Some agencies rely on the 1033 program to support the operational needs of their departments SWAT Teams, Marine Units, and other special operations units.
Criticism of the 1033 Program
Media images from Ferguson (Mo.) — including those showing officers dressed in camouflage gear, Kevlar helmets, armed with rifles and riding in armored personnel carriers — have made an impression on the American public. The 1033 program has been subjected to scrutiny regarding the acquisition and deployment of military grade-equipment at protests.
Reports have indicated that some of the equipment acquired through the program has been lost, stolen, mishandled or misappropriated. This information has brought the intent and efficacy of the program into question by Congress. New Jersey State Senator Nia Gill submitted a bill in September that would call for applications for support through the 1033 Program to be required to go through an approval process by a local governing body and submitted to a state coordinator of the program to ensure feasibility and compliance with new regulations. The Senator recognized the associated hazards of the program yet, balanced the fiscal shortfalls that could be bridged by the 1033 Program. (Rimbach, 2014)
The mayor of Davis (Calif.) has opted to return an MRAP acquired under the 1033 Program to the government as a statement against the “militarization of the country’s police departments.”
The mayor cited policy problems that allowed the police department to order and receive the MRAP and other equipment directly from the military, without having to present or obtain approval through the city government process. The action is symbolic and is more of a response to poor policy than a well-thought-out decision on what equipment is appropriate for a law enforcement agency to obtain. (Wolk, 2014)
The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MRAP) is not a “tank.” It is an armored personnel carrier that can be used to safely transport personnel in a hostile environment or a vehicle to be used to extract wounded officers and civilians from a ‘hot-zone.’ Law enforcement personnel are often required to enter hostile environments during the course of duty.
Before assuming that an armored vehicle has no place in the hands of a law enforcement agency, one should consider the uptick in active-shooter incidents at educational institutions, businesses, and public places. The armored vehicle is certainly an asset in ‘live-fire’ critical incidents. The North Hollywood shootout in 1997 in Los Angeles was a poster case in showing the need for such vehicles.
Two robbery suspects armed with automatic assault weapons, covered with Kevlar and bullet-resistant clothing and helmets, fired several hundred rounds at civilians and officers, wounding several in the process. Medical response was not available because EMTs and ambulances could not breach the inner perimeter while the gunmen continued to fire at anything that moved.
Individuals who had been shot lay critically wounded and bleeding within the perimeter with few options for extraction to emergency medical aid available (the practice of delayed emergency medical response into a hot zone is one that continues today in many jurisdictions). An armored financial transport company eventually loaned an armored car to the LAPD to be used to rescue and evacuate the wounded. Brave officers drove the armored car and police cars into the area to extract other wounded under live fire. (Parker, 2012)
The need for an armored carrier has been exhibited in several instances in San Francisco. Certainly it could have been used during a firefight that lasted several minutes on a street corner on November 6, 1994. In that incident an armed robbery suspect, also wearing Kevlar and bullet-resistant gear, managed to kill a San Francisco Police Officer and wound two others before he was stopped. There have been numerous situations where officers could be transported into or through hostile active environments in an armored personnel carrier. (Margolick, 1994)
The 1033 Program can still be a valuable asset to law enforcement agencies. Legislators in jurisdictions that request, acquire and deploy equipment from the 1033 Program should develop policy that would address concerns regarding types of equipment acquired, it’s use, storage, tracking, auditing, and replacing.
The policy should create a process that would delineate how a law enforcement agency requests the equipment. The process should show the justification, possible use and restrictions. The city, county council, or mayor may require authority to review and approve the requests. The agency application should be similar to a grant request.
The Federal government has the authority and opportunity to define types of equipment available to local law enforcement and to establish clear guidelines for their use. The state coordinator, as called for by Senator Gill would act as gatekeeper, auditor, and compliance office.
Law enforcement agencies can be proactive in examining their own policies in regards to how 1033 supplements are employed. Is there a need for camouflage designs on uniforms or equipment in an urban area?
The power of visual presentation can impact the viewer by upwards of 80 percent. The media image of law enforcement officers and equipment donning camouflage design has sent chilling military images to the American public.
Restrictions can be built into policy that would delineate when and what types of equipment should be deployed at civilian protests. The rules of engagement policy should be reviewed as well to restrict or limit discretion regarding certain types of force to be used at such incidents. Many departments already have policies that restrict the use of mounted units, canines and other force options at demonstrations and protests.
Agencies that acquire military-grade equipment should have a process that accounts for and audits all such equipment. The policy should include a chain of custody process to account for the equipment and call for investigations and discipline in relation to missing, lost or stolen equipment.
To return any equipment out-of-hand as a gesture to symbolize a stand against the 1033 Program would be to strip the agency of potential life- saving options. Instead, jurisdictions should work together towards assessing, evaluating and analyzing the need for equipment and make a concerted effort to acquire them to benefit the communities served.
Margolick, D. (1994, November 15). NY Times.com. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/1994/11/15/us/25-minutes-of-terror-in-san-francisco.html
Parker, B. (2012, February 28). Policemag.com. Retrieved October 17, 2014, from http://www.policemag.com/channel/weapons/articles/2012/02/how-the-north-hollywood-shootout-changed-patrol-rifles.aspx
Rimbach, J. (2014, September 15). NorthJersey.com. Retrieved October 20, 2014, from http://www.northjersey.com/news/n-j-legislation-offered-to-limit-militarization-of-police-1.1088653
Wolk, D. (2014, October 10). sfgate.com. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Quiet-town-of-Davis-says-no-thanks-to-police-tank-5813128.php