Law enforcement officers, including a sniper perched atop an armored vehicle, watch as demonstrators protest the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 13, 2014. The police chief of this St. Louis suburb said Wednesday that Brown injured the officer who later fatally shot the unarmed 18 year old though witnesses dispute that such an altercation occurred.
Whitney Curtis/The New York Times/Redux

Debate over police militarization to begin in earnest

Updated
As Michael Brown’s funeral continues this morning at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, it comes against the backdrop of a policy argument that’s just beginning to take shape. The recent crisis in Ferguson is a combination of so many factors, but one of the more straightforward issues policymakers can address is the militarization of local police forces.
 
With this in mind, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced late last week that she will lead a Senate hearing in September to examine the militarization of local police departments. The Missouri Democrat is the chair of Senate Homeland Security’s panel on contracting oversight, which she’ll use to “examine federal programs that enable local police departments to acquire military equipment, such as the Defense Department’s 1033 program for surplus property and grants made through the Department of Homeland Security.”
 
As msnbc’s Benjamin Landy reported over the weekend, McCaskill isn’t alone in her interest.
President Obama has ordered a review of federal programs that help state and local law enforcement acquire military equipment, a senior administration official confirmed to NBC News on Saturday. The review comes amid national outrage at what many see as the growing militarization of policing in America. […]
 
Obama has directed the review to assess whether those programs are appropriate, and whether police are receiving the necessary training to use the equipment correctly. It will also look at whether the federal programs are being audited sufficiently.
The White House-directed review is expected to be formally announced today, and will involve the Domestic Policy Council, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Treasury Department.
 
It is, as the New York Times put it, a “comprehensive review of the government’s decade-old strategy of outfitting local police departments with military-grade body armor, mine-resistant trucks, silencers and automatic rifles.”
The government will also consider whether it is keeping a close enough watch on equipment inventories, and how the weapons and other gear are used.
 
The review, coupled with proposed legislation and planned congressional hearings, opens the possibility for significant changes in Washington’s approach to arming local law enforcement agencies.
At this point, congressional Republicans, who tend to oppose whatever the White House supports, have said very little on the subject. As such, it’s hard to say how much resistance, if any, Democrats will face from GOP lawmakers. Presumably, more libertarian-minded Republicans will be at least somewhat sympathetic to the idea.
 
As the debate continues, however, keep an eye on the NRA and firearms manufacturers. Peter Mancuso – a self-described “former Marine combatant, weapons instructor, and career law enforcement official” – has a piece in the Washington Monthly arguing persuasively that they’re driving police militarization at least as much as the Pentagon.
 

Ferguson and Michael Brown

Debate over police militarization to begin in earnest

Updated