In his quest to make American great again, Donald Trump seems convinced that reducing crime should be at the top of the list. The fact that the murder rate is back down to where it was when Eisenhower was President and other categories of violent crime are less than half of what they were during the Reagan presidency doesn’t seem to matter in the Oval Office. Crime control has always been a big seller for Republicans, and law and order in places other than the Oval Office can always roll up the votes.
In keeping with his pledge to be a crime-fighter without peer, Trump has just announced that he is ending the ban on sales of military equipment to the police, a practice that was curbed by Obama after the shooting in Ferguson of Michael Brown. The transfer of military equipment from the military to the police was actually started by Clinton back in 1996 in a program known as 1033, which allowed police agencies to grab surplus military equipment no longer being deployed for our troops.
According to the Defense Logistics Agency, more than $6 billion worth of vehicles, clothing, office supplies, tools, rescue equipment and weapons have been turned over from the men and women in camo to the men and women in blue, and more than 8,000 law enforcement agencies are enrolled in the program and can get their hands on equipment which the military no longer wants or needs.
When the cops squared off against the protestors in Ferguson, some of the officers were dressed in riot gear, others looked like they had just come from the set of the 1975 television series S.W.A.T. and still others were indistinguishable from National Guard troops that were called out to try and quell the riot which broke out after Brown’s death. When CNN ran a story about how National Guard commanders referred to the rioters as ‘enemy forces,’ Obama reacted by issuing restrictions against further militarizing of the police and shut down the 1033 transfers of gear.
Note incidentally, the use of the word ‘transfer’ as regards how the cops got their hands on this equipment, rather than using the words ‘purchase’ or ‘buy.’ The whole point of this program was to relieve local governments of some of the costs of outfitting their law enforcement agencies, even if what they were getting for free they would never have purchased anyway. The program has shifted ownership of a few HUMVEEs and other ‘tactical’ vehicles, but remember, these are ‘surplus’ items, which means they are too old or too beaten up to be used by the military any more. In other words, most of the equipment which has been provided through this program is the same moth-eaten clothing junk sitting in the Army-Navy store on Canal Street in downtown Manhattan.
Here’s the quote from the White House which sums it all up. Trump’s order “sends the message that we care more about public safety than about how a piece of equipment looks, especially when that equipment has been shown to reduce crime, reduce complaints against and assaults on police, and make officers more effective.” In fact, none of this equipment has been shown to do anything except reduce police budgets, but when all is said and done, this Administration’s crime-fighting strategy is basically a mixture of letting Joe Arpaio off the hook for breaking the law and making stupid jokes about slamming the heads of suspects as they are pushed into the back of a squad car.
Trump’s order has provoked the usual complaints about how police should be community guardians, not community warriors. But the violence in Charlottesville might have been avoided if the cops, who were all decked out in riot gear, had actually stayed around instead of going home. The decision to reinstate the 1033 program is nothing more than Trump pandering to his dwindling base. Police gain the people’s trust by how they behave, not how they are dressed.