By Keith Johnson
Since Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of communities across the nation have taken advantage of more than $34 billion in central government grants to
equip police and sheriffs’ departments with assault rifles and exotic weaponry.
In 2011 alone, approximately $2 billion in grants were awarded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), along with $500 million more allocated to existing programs.
The accounting for this expense was recently compiled by the Center for Investigative Reporting and detailed in a report, “America’s War Within: Homeland security and the first 10 years of the war on terror.” After reviewing records from 41 states and interviewing over two dozen police officials and terrorism experts, researcher G.W. Schulz concludes that police departments “have transformed into small army-like forces.”
Federal grants are just one avenue police are using to get weaponry like armored vehicles, grenade launchers and M-16 assault rifles, suited to use on a battlefield. In fiscal year 2011, the Department of Defense gave away a record total of more than $500 million worth of military surplus to law enforcement through its little-known (to the public) “1033 program.”
“Passed by Congress in 1997, the 1033 program was created to provide law-enforcement agencies with tools to fight drugs and terrorism,” writes Benjamin Carlson in a recent article for The Daily. “Since then, more than 17,000 agencies have taken in $2.6 billion worth of equipment… paying only the cost of delivery.”
That trend is showing no signs of slowing, according to Carlson.
So why is the government supplying cops with these dangerous toys? The much-touted threat of terrorism is no justification. The National Safety Council notes: “You are eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist.”
A crime wave can’t be blamed either. Since the early 1990s, the incidence of violent crime has steadily been on the decline, as more and more law-abiding citizens arm themselves. Violent crime peaked in 1991 at 758.2 per 100,000 people. In 2010, there was nearly half that number—403.6 per 100,000. The same can be said for officers killed in the line of fire. The number of deaths peaked in 1980, at 104 per 100,000, compared to a low of 50 per 100,000 in 2010.
The real reason these lavish gifts are being provided is that it makes police chiefs and sheriffs more accountable to the federal government than to their own states and local communities. Those agencies may soon be called upon to integrate with federal troops—who may soon be allowed to patrol U.S. streets, pursuant to the passage of the so-called National Defense Authorization Act.
There is also a growing effort by the drone or unmanned aerial vehicle industry to market its products to local law enforcement. In their 2011 annual report, General Atomics (GA), the nation’s leading manufacturer of Predator drones, made it clear their future growth depends upon pursuing new applications that will help create opportunities “beyond the military market.” Meanwhile, GA spent in excess of $2 million last year lobbying Congress on behalf of defense appropriations bills and larger DHS budgets.
Though normal American manufacturing and production is at an all-time low, the defense industry is booming. According to the Homeland Security Research Corp., “The homeland security market for state and local agencies is projected to reach $19.2 billion by 2014, up from $15.8 billion in fiscal 2009.”