Editor’s Note: This article previously listed items received by D.C. police from the 1033 program. The article now correctly reflects that the program distributed those items to multiple agencies in the city and not solely to the Metropolitan Police Department.
WASHINGTON — After seeing Humvees, tanks and police armed with military-grade equipment in the small town of Ferguson, Missouri, Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for a Department of Justice investigation into the programs which provide the items to local police departments, including D.C. police.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton says images of armed police and tanks rolling down the streets of the small city of Ferguson have, at times, made it look like a war zone.
“So you have a boiling steam already there that’s crowned off, by of all things, a militarized police force — police who have no relationship to the community but now they’re out as if they’re from Afghanistan or Iraq,” Norton says on Newschannel 8.
She praises the attorney general’s call for a Justice Department investigation into the programs supplying local police with military-grade equipment.
“Some of this was clearly misused, misdirected and could only have been used against the people,” she says.
One congressionally mandated program supplying police departments with military grade equipment, called 1033, is run by the Law Enforcement Support Office.
The program was part of the National Defense Authorization Act. It began in 1991 in an effort to counteract growing drug-related crimes and was revised in 1997 to include counterterrorism.
Michelle McCaskill, a spokeswoman with the Defense Logistics Agency, says local jurisdictions apply for items listed as excess Department of Defense property and, if approved, only have to pay for the cost of transporting them.
“We’re talking about office supplies, blankets, sleeping bags, computers, digital cameras. And that also includes some military equipment,” she says of the items available to local jurisdictions.
The 1033 program is just one of several federal programs that provide military- style equipment to local police.
According to program documents, law enforcement agencies in D.C. have been acquiring items from the 1033 program since 1993.
WTOP previously reported items such as helicopters, night vision image intensifiers, “laser, gas” and a camouflage screening system went to D.C. police. The list also included non-tactical items like forklifts, parkas, field packs and binoculars.
Pat Mackin, deputy at the Law Enforcement Support Office, says the documents provided to WTOP listing D.C. as a recipient of excess Department of Defense items could also reflect federal agencies operating inside the city.
The Department of Defense defers to local jurisdictions about how specific they want to be in disclosing the items they’ve received through the program, Mackin says.
Every state has a 1033 program coordinator that works as a point person for the program, however D.C. does not have a program coordinator, he says.
Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier released the following statement on Tuesday in response to WTOP’s story.
We are still working to identify resources that may have been acquired in the early and mid-1990s. In 2008, the Department did receive 500 AR-15 rifles through the 1033 program. These are not actually listed in this accounting because they were transferred directly to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Cheltenham, Maryland, on MPD’s behalf. These firearms are essential to safeguarding District residents, workers, and visitors. Unfortunately, from lone gunmen at the Navy Yard, Holocaust Museum, and the White House, to heavily armed criminals, our community faces danger for which MPD officers must be prepared. I believe our community is safer because of the training and expertise of MPD members, and I am proud of our officers’ commitment to protecting everyone in the nation’s capital.”
Lanier further defended the federal equipment-sharing program during an appearance on Newschannel 8 Wednesday.
“To think that this is a bad program or somehow it’s putting out advanced weaponry that’s homeland security related, all that is just not true,” Lanier said.
She added that under the federal program, “We’ve gotten very little equipment” other than the rifles.
Norton says she understands the reason for large cities like D.C., Los Angeles and New York to have militarized equipment, however she says the tact of community policing in D.C. is improving the relationship between officers and residents.
“We in D.C. can see what community policing can do. The reason Chief Lanier is so popular is because she’s perfected community policing,” Norton says.
State police in Maryland and Virginia also participate in the 1033 program. Program coordinators at both departments say they plan to make a list of their federally acquired items available soon.
Watch Del. Holmes Norton on Newschannel 8 discussing the militarization of police: