Here’s something worth reading: the Burlington, Vermont Police Department has announced it will no longer be participating in the Dept. of Defense’s 1033 Program. This program is the well-intentioned effort to somehow make use of excess/old military inventory. Unfortunately, along with desks, computers, file cabinets and other office staples, the government also allows police departments to pick up mine-resistant vehicles, assault rifles, grenade launchers and other military gear — often at a steep discount that’s made even more inexpensive by Homeland Security grants.
The Burlington Police Department announced today that the Department has severed its ties with the much-scrutinized “1033 Program,” a Department of Defense initiative that allows aging military equipment to be repurposed for domestic policing. Until this summer, the Burlington Police Department possessed two military-issued night vision devices, which were the extent of its holdings under the Department of Defense (DOD) program.
“The militarization of local police departments is a genuine concern in our nation,” said Burlington Chief of Police Brandon del Pozo. “There are times when military-style equipment is essential for public safety, but they are very rare. Between our partners in the Vermont State Police and the Vermont National Guard, as well as the other federal and local agencies the Burlington Police Department partners with, 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 and let our 1033 Program memorandum of understanding expire.”
The Burlington Police Department has no plans to acquire tactical or military items beyond the types of conventional policing equipment it already possesses.
Mayor Miro Weinberger offered his support of this decision: “Today’s announcement cements the Burlington Police Department’s long-standing practice of avoiding the use of military equipment, in contrast to many other police departments. Our focus instead is on the basics of good policing in the 21st century: foot patrols, strong relationships between the officers and the community, and the use of modern tools to increase public transparency and police effectiveness.”
One thing should be clarified: the 1033 Program is by no means mandatory. “Severing ties” really means just deciding not to participate. The MOU may have expired but it could have run on forever without the PD feeling obligated to order anything from the 1033 catalog.
What’s more important are the sentiments expressed by the Burlington police chief. He recognizes that acquiring military gear only leads to a military mindset that turns public servants into an invading force. Even better, del Pozo recognizes that using worst-case scenarios as justification for heavily-armored vehicles and military weaponry is a bullshit tactic. As we’ve seen time and time again, local law enforcement will claim anything and everything is a “potential terrorist target” just so they can acquire cheap MRAPs and M4A1 rifles. Del Pozo isn’t going to take his force down a similar path.
The mayor’s vocal support of this decision is a pleasant surprise as well. Mayor Weinberger won’t be making himself any friends in other law enforcement agencies after calling them out for their (ab)use of the 1033 program. Hopefully, other agencies will see Burlington’s very public opt-out as worthy of emulation. But considering the latest narratives to take hold (Ferguson Effect, War on Cops) both paint police officers as under siege, it’s highly doubtful many will recognize the goodwill they could generate simply by treating residents as human beings, rather than enemy combatants.