In 1968, students at Columbia University staged a mass uprising other college campuses in protesting not just the war in Vietnam, but their school’s collaboration with the Institute for Defense Analysis, a Defense Department affiliate that researches weapons technologies. Today, weapons produced by that institute are used by the US military throughout the world—and by campus police forces across the country. The war has come home.
The Pentagon’s 1033 program, which allows the Defense Department to unload its excess military equipment onto local police forces, has quietly overflowed onto college campuses. According to documents obtained by the website Muckrock, more than 100 campus police forces have received military materials from the Pentagon. Schools that participate in the program range from liberal arts to community colleges to the entire University of Texas system. Emory, Rice, Purdue, and the University of California, Berkeley, are all on the list.
In 1990, Congress enacted the National Defense Authorization Act, including the magnanimous section 1208, which since 1996 has been known as program 1033. Over the last 17 years, this trickle-down gift economy has distributed more than $4.3 billion worth of equipment, according to program administrators. As Ferguson police rolled up to peaceful protesters in military-grade tanks, firing tear gas and rubber bullets, President Obama ordered a review of the program, which reached new highs in regifting under his tenure.
It’s clear why a review of the program is in order, because it isn’t clear at all what sort of equipment these colleges are receiving. David Perry, the president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, told Politico that 1033 mostly funnels “small items” to college police forces for daily use. These could be anything from office supplies or uniforms or car parts, but it’s probably not all that tame. Campus Safety magazine recommends that universities take part in the 1033 program to cover a range of needs from storage units to grenade launchers. That is, after all, what the program was designed to achieve.
But program 1033 doesn’t even come close to explaining all the ways in which campus police have been militarized over the past two decades. Colleges can also apply for Homeland Security grants, the same ones made available to every municipal police department in the country after 9/11. In 2012, UC Berkeley tried to use the program to purchase an eight-ton armored truck. After a backlash, university officials ultimately decided the truck was “not the best choice for a university setting.” The following year, Ohio State University acquired a mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle. So far, it has yet to be targeted.