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

Trump badly flubs facts on militarizing local police

Updated

Donald Trump spoke at the annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial event in D.C. yesterday, and managed to say several things that weren’t true, though one claim in particular stood out for me.

For example. the president focused some attention on deceased border patrol agent, Rogelio Martinez, but he echoed several dubious claims that are popular in conservative media, which aren’t necessarily bolstered by the evidence. Trump also spoke about law-enforcement fatalities in a way that painted a misleading picture.

But what struck me as especially notable was the Republican’s assertion that his administration is “allowing local police to access the surplus military equipment they need to protect our officers and law enforcement agents and save their lives.” He added, “And they are taking equipment at a record clip.”

Is that true? Actually, no. USA Today had an interesting report on this about a month ago, pointing to data that shows the opposite of what the president claimed yesterday.

The amount of surplus military equipment sent to local police departments across the nation has sharply declined in recent months despite an executive order President Trump signed that was intended to increase those transfers, a USA TODAY analysis has found.

Shipments of military gear in the first three months of 2018 fell by half compared with the same period last year, Department of Defense data show. The amount of armored vehicles, high-caliber rifles and other equipment measured by dollar value also slid.

A New York Times  report, relying data from the Defense Logistics Agency, which oversees the transfers, added, “[S]o far in the 2018 fiscal year, law enforcement agencies received a monthly average of $14 million worth of military supplies. In the 2017 fiscal year – which included several months of the Obama presidency – that number was about $42 million worth of supplies per month. The monthly average was even higher in the 2016 fiscal year at $43 million, and peaked at $82 million in the 2014 fiscal year.”

The broader question, though, is why Trump made the claim that’s not true.

As regular readers may recall, the 2014 crisis in Ferguson shook the nation in a variety of ways, but one of the lasting debates focused on the militarization of local law enforcement. Many Americans weren’t just shocked by the unrest; they were also surprised to see police officers carrying weapons of war while confronting American civilians on domestic soil.

In the wake of the violence, there was considerable interest on Capitol Hill about reforming the Pentagon’s “1033” program that makes military equipment available to police departments. Though most of the support for changes was spearheaded by Democrats, even some Republican lawmakers agreed it was time to take another look at the policy.

Congressional action never materialized, but the Obama administration followed through, banning the transfer of at least some types of military weapons to local police.

Trump, meanwhile, loves to talk about his order, undoing the Obama-era policy. In the Republican’s mind, weapons of war on American streets – including grenade launchers, tanks, and weaponized aircraft – is “tough”; Obama’s approach was “weak”; so this is worthy of frequent boasts.

As we were reminded yesterday, those boasts don’t have to be true for Trump to repeat them.

Donald Trump

Trump badly flubs facts on militarizing local police

Updated