President Obama's move this week to place limitations on military equipment that gets transferred to local and state police departments will likely have little effect on the program most responsible for the so-called "militarization of the police."
The change of policy will have minimal impact on the Pentagon's notorious 1033 Program, which was widely scrutinized after the police response to unrest in Ferguson, MO. last summer, Michelle McCaskill, spokesperson for the Pentagon agency that runs the program, told Fusion.
The move was applauded by groups that had been calling for change to the program for years.
"Most of the stuff that is now listed as prohibited is not provided by us in the first place. For instance, we don't provide ammunition, we don't provide .50-caliber weapons or anything higher than .50-cal. We don't provide camouflage uniforms," McCaskill said.
The 1033 Program has transferred nearly $4.5 billion of military equipment to over 8,000 local and state police departments since it was started in 1990, according to the Pentagon. Most of the material has been deemed as excess by the Pentagon, meaning it is too old or obsolete for military use.
What Obama's announcement does prohibit is the transferring of tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft or vehicles of any kind, firearms and ammunition of .50-caliber or above, grenade launchers, bayonets, and camouflage uniforms from the Department of Defense to local or state police.
"The vehicles that we provide, if they're aircrafts, or any vessel — they don't have weapons on them. We demilitarize those vehicles and aircraft before transferring them to law enforcement," McCaskill said.
Out of the equipment now listed as prohibited to transfer, only bayonets, grenade launchers and track armored vehicles are actually offered by the 1033 program. But, McCaskill said, "we haven't provided any of those for a few years now."
Another Pentagon spokesperson told Fusion that track armored vehicles have not been offered through the program since 2011.
The ban on these items, which are "militaristic in nature," was put in place because their misuse or overuse could "significantly undermine community trust and may encourage tactics and behaviors that are inconsistent with the premise of civilian law enforcement," reads Obama's executive order.
But pistols, rifles, scopes, body armor and other tactical gear will still be offered to local police departments through the program.
Even the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs), which have at times been controversially obtained by tiny police departments in rural America, will still be offered.
"MRAPs have wheels, not tracks, so under these new rules, agencies can seemingly keep them — a wrinkle that is more than a little ironic," Doug Wyllie, editor of law enforcement publication PoliceOne, noted yesterday. "Recall that the MRAP was purpose-built for the theater of war in Iraq and Afghanistan when our soldiers were being killed and maimed because the Humvees and M35/deuce-and-a-halfs were being shredded like wet cardboard."
Some police, like Wyllie, fear that the order will make it harder for police to get their hands on equipment that is "essential to missions such as responding to violent crimes in progress like armed robberies and active-shooter incidents."
Obama's order was not only aimed at the 1033 program. It was also meant to affect other departments and programs that either transfer equipment themselves, or offer grants to police departments for new purchases. No federal grants can now be used to purchase the prohibited items.
The majority of those grants are provided through the Department of Homeland Security, which did not respond to Fusion for comment about how it might be affected.
Department of Defense spokesman Mark Wright told Fusion that the Army's operations — which account for the bulk of all military equipment transferred to police departments — will be minimally affected by the new policy.
Prohibited items can always be offered up to a foreign allied country for sale, or transferred within the military, he said.
However, he added "most prohibited items will almost certainly be destroyed and sold for scrap."
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.