Law enforcement lobbying groups appear unsettled by a growing call to reform the federal programs that funnel military-grade equipment to state and local police, sparked by images of decked-out police officers confronting protesters in Ferguson, Mo., over the last two weeks.
The Daily Beast interviewed the leaders of several law enforcement groups and they were adamant in their belief that the programs, which help agencies obtain things like the mine-resistant MRAP vehicles, should not be cut off.
“The presence of an MRAP for defensive positioning should not unnerve a law-abiding citizen,” Jon Adler, the national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, told the Beast. “Police officers are human and bleed like everyone else. They deserve the best protection from violent assaults, and providing them with MRAPs or advanced body armor minimizes their exposure to serious injury or death.”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) has already pledged to introduce a bill that would reform the 1033 program, one of the major programs that send equipment from the Defense Department to U.S. law enforcement. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) also called for de-militarizing the police and is reportedly weighing legislation of his own.
“The police have to be one step ahead of the criminal element, have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. You don’t want a community to be taken over by one or many criminals,” Mark Lomax, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, told the Beast. “We’re definitely for equipping our law enforcement officials out there properly, with proper training and proper policies.”
That last part is key, Lomax added: Training. That could be grounds for reform, he said, as long as the agencies continued to receive the equipment.
“The appropriate compromise is, let’s talk about training, which is not part of the original 1033 program,” Lomax said. “[Let’s not] throw the baby out with the bathwater… We believe that the 1033 program has done a lot for law enforcement over the last 20 years, and that it should continue, with reservations.”
The ACLU, it should be noted, identified police training — “which encourages them to adopt a ‘warrior’ mentality and think of the people they are supposed to serve as enemies” — as one of the factors that had already contributed to the militarization of U.S. law enforcement.