Police militarizations are money-makers

Police militarizations are money-makers

August 23rd, 2014 in Opinion Times

House member // Party // State-District // Contributions // Vote

Bradley Byrne // R // AL-1 // $25,500 // No

Martha Roby // R // AL-2 // $102,500 // No

Mike D. Rogers // R // AL-3 // $213,755 // No

Robert Aderholt // R // AL-4 // $211,748 // No

Mo Brooks // R // AL-5 // $278,920 // No

Spencer Bachus // R // AL-6 // $19,500 // No

Terri Sewell // D // AL-7 // $48,750 // No

Alabama total contributions $900,673

Jack Kingston // R // GA-1 // $209,400 // Yes

Sanford Bishop // D // GA-2 // $100,000 // No

Lynn Westmoreland // R // GA-3 // $56,500 // No

Henry "Hank" Johnson // D // GA-4 // $49,000 // Yes

John Lewis // D // GA-5 // $29,500 // Yes

Tom Price // R // GA-6 // $29,000 // No

Rob Woodall // R // GA-7 // $6,000 // No

Austin Scott // R // GA-8 // $101,148 // No

Doug Collins // R // GA-9 // $14,000 // No

Paul Broun // R // GA-10 // $9,706 // Yes

John "Phil" Gingrey // R // GA-11 // $46,750 // No

John Barrow // D // GA-12 // $74,750 // Yes

David Scott // D // GA-13 $14,000 // No

John "Tom" Graves // R // GA-14 // $39,000 // No

Georgia total contributions $778,754

David "Phil" Roe // R // TN-1 // $0 // No

John "Jimmy" Duncan // R // TN-2 // $16,000 // Yes

Charles Fleischmann // R // TN-3 // $41,000 // No

Scott DesJarlais // R // TN-4 // $4,000 // No

Jim Cooper // D // TN-5 // $42,000 // No

Diane Black // R // TN-6 // $23,000 // No

Marsha Blackburn // R // TN-7 // $47,000 // No

Stephen Fincher // R // TN-8 // $7,500 // No

Steve Cohen // D // TN-9 // $250 // No

Tennessee total contributions $180,750

Tri-state contributions $1,860,177

Illustration by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Militarizing community police departments is not about safety. It's about money.

That war-zone look we saw in recent weeks in Ferguson, Mo. -- helmeted officers pointing weapons from armored trucks and flash grenades lighting the night sky while tear gas exploded in crowded streets where protesters carried children -- was all about money.

The escalated weaponry didn't bring back Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen killed by a police officer. And it didn't quell protests from angry townspeople. In fact, it inflamed the protests -- and the nation.

But that parade of war machines in the hands of ordinary police officers also lined the coffers of our lawmakers. That's because arming the nation's police departments as though they are going to war makes more money for defense contractors -- the makers of war machines. And the war mongers do what all good salesmen do: They make sure the buyers -- in this case our lawmakers -- like them. So they shower the lawmakers with contributions and lobbying.

Think about it: A 2012 MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle) should last for years if it doesn't run over a mine before the U.S. military gets out of a mine-infested country somewhere. That might mean the MRAP makers won't make as much money in coming years. The same thing is true of machine guns, grenade launchers, tear gas and drones.

So in June, as the House of Representatives was considering House Resolution 4870 -- the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for 2015 -- amendment 918 presented by Florida Democrat Alan Grayson went nowhere.

Rep. Grayson's amendment asked House members to partially defund the "1033 Program" which has paid for so-called surplus war machines to be transferred free of charge to civilian police. Grayson's amendment sought to "prohibit use of funds to transfer aircraft (including unmanned aerial vehicles), armored vehicles, grenade launchers, silencers, toxicological agents, launch vehicles, guided missiles, ballistic missiles, rockets, torpedoes, bombs, mines, or nuclear weapons" through the DOD Excess Personal Property Program established by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997.

The amendment failed on a bipartisan vote of 62-355.

And -- surprise, surprise -- representatives voting to continue funding the 1033 Program have received, on average, 73 percent more money from the defense industry groups opposing the amendment than representatives voting to defund it, according to MapLight.org, a nonpartisan research organization that reveals money's influence on politics.

Tennessee Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, who claims to be a fiscal conservative committed to not wasting our money, voted against even partially defunding the program that has transferred more than $4.3 billion in tax-funded equipment to tiny and not so tiny towns and cities and counties where there should be no mines or war. (Some 500 law enforcement agencies across the nation have received MRAPS, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.)

Fleischmann also received $41,000 from defense contractors from Jan. 1, 2011, to Dec. 31, 2013, according to MapLight.org.

He wasn't alone. Marsha Blackburn, another tea party-leaning Republican, from Tennessee's 7th District, also voted against lowering defense spending by over-arming police departments. And her campaign disclosures show she received $47,000 from defense groups and contractors who opposed the amendment. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat representing District 5, also voted against the amendment, and he was among Tennessee's best-benefited House members with contributions totaling $42,000. In Tennessee's delegation, only Jimmy Duncan voted for the amendment to cut funds from the program.

In Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, 30 House members racked up more than $1.8 million and only six voted for partially defunding the 1033 Program. Nationally, House of Representatives members raked in almost $20.7 million just from defense contractors opposing this amendment, according to figures compiled by MapLight. The Senate is expected to consider the National Defense Authorization Act in September.

Earlier this year, the ACLU released a report outlining the dangers of militarizing police -- often under the guise of outfitting SWAT teams. Kara Dansky, a senior counsel at the ACLU's Center for Justice, authored "War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing."

"Of the more than 800 paramilitary raids that we studied, almost 80 percent were for ordinary law enforcement purposes like serving search warrants on people's homes. Only 7 percent were for genuine emergencies, such as a barricade or hostage situation," she told The New York Times.

Often, the paramilitary weapons and equipment escalated the risk of violence and threatened public safety. In several cases, the paramilitary-style approach led to tragedy, such as a 19-month-old baby critically injured when a flash-bang grenade landed in his crib. Officers didn't find the suspect they sought.

Then there's the question of whether the war machines are used or surplus. In fact, much of the equipment -- 36 percent -- is brand new. The Defense Logistics Agency, which administers the program, "can simply purchase property from an equipment or weapons manufacturer and transfer it to a local law enforcement agency free of charge," according to the ACLU report.

Without a doubt, our police can use some of this equipment -- body armor, armored cars to transport and hold hostage negotiators, even surplus guns. But Chattanooga's new police chief, Fred Fletcher, shakes his head at other items such as MRAPs. No community police department needs that, he recently told Times Free Press reporters and editors.

We agree. The police are here to protect and serve us, not to wage war in our neighborhoods.

And our Congress members are elected to ensure that our laws and budgets serve us -- not them, and not defense contractors.