President Donald Trump signed an executive order lifting a ban on the 1033 Pentagon program, allowing the federal government to exert greater influence on local and state law enforcement agencies by transferring expensive, military-grade equipment to their ranks so they may be used in our streets.
But local police forces aren’t supposed to act like the military. As a matter of fact, the very Founders of the United States had a deep suspicion of standing armies, placing the Third and Fourth Amendments strategically in the Bill of Rights so that the individual was treated as the mighty owner of his house and anything he occupies, shielding him from prosecution for acting in defense of his “castle.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) denounced the president’s plan, saying that, on top of “[subsidizing] militarization,” this move would make minorities across the country feel that police are targeting them. After all, he added, “[a]nyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice isn’t paying close enough attention.”
But perhaps what’s also at stake but seldom discussed when it comes to policing in America is the driving forces behind these policy changes. And what’s worse, how incentives play a major role in how these policies are applied.
Long before Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Trump would be reinstating the 1033 Pentagon program, the country’s largest police union had already lobbied hard to make sure the president was listening. They see advantages to being given so much power despite having sworn an oath to act as peace officers, not soldiers in times of war.
What they fail to realize (or perhaps do realize but don’t care about) is that when officers who are supposed to act as local law enforcers are given military toys, they go from men and women of the community who exist as a force to keep the peace, to acting as if they were in a warzone.
With the extra military-grade toys in hand, these men and women fall prey to the tricks their minds play on them, and they forget that they must act responsibly in order to boost public safety — not instill fear.
When the Founders realized that standing armies were being quartered in the houses of local Americans during the American Revolution, they looked at Rome for yet another example of power-thirsty military men destroying a Republic. They knew that the individual was meant to be powerful and soberan in his home, strong, willing, and capable to defend himself and his loved ones, and that the policing of local laws are meant to be enforced by the community.
When federal governments grow powerful, they are also capable of “bribing” local law men to fall in line. So when you centralize power in the hands of a few, expect the powerful in your midst to tag along. Who loses? The individual, who suddenly sees his freedom being diluted in the name of “security.”