he Burlington police department unilaterally decided to sever ties with a U.S. Department of Defense program that allows law enforcement agencies to procure surplus military equipment, freeing the department from one significant form of federal influence and control.

A Burlington TV station reported on the move, saying the department had obtained two night vision devices through the program before deciding not to participate.

“There are times when military-style equipment is essential for public safety, but they are very rare,” Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said. “We have the resources to handle all but the most inconceivable public safety scenarios. Amassing a worst-case scenario arsenal of military equipment results in officers seeing everyday policework through a military lens. When I realized what a small role the military played in equipping our police, I concluded it was better to return the items.”

FEDERAL SURPLUS AND GRANT MONEY

Through the federal 1033 Program, local police departments procure military grade weapons, including automatic assault rifles, body armor and mine resistant armored vehicles – essentially unarmed tanks. Police departments can even get their hands on military helicopters and other aircraft.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) runs the “Homeland Security Grant Program,” which in 2013 gave more than $900 million in counterterrorism funds to state and local police. According to a 2012 Senate report, this money has been used to purchase tactical vehicles, drones, and even tanks with little obvious benefit to public safety. And, according to ProPublica, “In 1994, the Justice Department and the Pentagon funded a five-year program to adapt military security and surveillance technology for local police departments that they would otherwise not be able to afford.”

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