The Pentagon’s controversial 1033 military-equipment sharing initiative continues to come under fire, as a new report in the Associated Press found the program has been loaning military equipment to police departments under federal investigation for civil rights violations.
A Fusion investigation published last month found the program has been plagued by messy oversight and scores of missing weapons. The AP’s report, however, shows that the problems started even earlier than that, when the Pentagon loaned weapons to police departments that had been censured by the Department of Justice, raising new questions about what — if any— screening process was in place.
“One arm of the federal government is restricting the departments based on a history of constitutional violations, and the other arm is feeding them heavy weapons. That’s absurd,” Peter Bibring, a staff attorney for the ACLU of southern California told the AP.
The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, received 1,680 M16 assault rifles from the Pentagon, even after the DOJ started investigating the department for “[engaging’ in a pattern or practice of depriving individuals of constitutional rights.” [PDF]
In total, more than 25 police departments across the country have come under some type of DOJ scrutiny for civil rights violations over the past two decades, according to the Police Executive Research Forum. Most recently the federal agency is investigating Ferguson Police to determine whether the police discriminated against people of color.
Alan Estevez, a Defense Department official who oversees the military equipment sharing program, said his agency doesn’t have the capability of monitoring how their loaned equipment is used by beneficiary police departments.
But a recent study by the ACLU, which analyzed over 800 SWAT deployments across the country between 2011-2012, suggests a lot of it is being used to search people’s homes for drugs, and “not for more critical emergency situations such as hostage, barricade and active shooter scenarios.”
Sixty-one percent of those drug raids involved minorities, raising further concerns that military-loaned weapons are being used to disproportionately target people of color.