Shocking images of police patrolling in heavy military gear in Ferguson, Missouri, riding in armored vehicles mounting machine guns, have ignited a bipartisan movement to demilitarize America's police forces.
President Barack Obama has joined in, stating, "There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don't want those lines blurred," and promised a review of the Pentagon's 1033 program which, since 1991, has provided surplus military equipment to local police forces.
However, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, Rear Adm. John Kirby, told The Hill
that the Obama administration can cancel the program at any time and withdraw military-provided equipment from police departments.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel "has the authority to rescind and take back equipment that is transferred to local law enforcement agencies if he deems fit. He has that authority," Kirby told The Hill.
Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has called for an end to the program, and Rep. Hank Johnson plans to introduce a bill
to limit the program, stating in a letter to fellow congressmen, "Our main streets should be a place for business, families, and relaxation, not tanks and M16s."
Ferguson, The Hill reports, has received two military Humvees, a generator, and a cargo trailer from the Defense Department, while St. Louis police have received six pistols, 12 rifles, 15 weapon sights, a bomb-disposal robot, three helicopters, seven Humvees, and two night-vision devices.
In all, more than $4 billion in military gear has gone to the nation's local police, The Hill reports.
"I think it's probably useful for us to review how the funding has gone, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars to make sure that what they're purchasing is stuff that they actually need," Obama said.
Tim Lynch, criminal justice expert at the Cato Institute, told The Hill
, "When you begin to confuse and blur the lines between the military and police, you get unnecessary violent confrontations, such as what we're seeing in Ferguson."
Sen. Carl Levin
, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement, "Before the defense authorization bill comes to the Senate floor, we will review this program to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended.
"Congress established this program out of real concern that local law enforcement agencies were literally outgunned by drug criminals," he added.
"We intended this equipment to keep police officers and their communities safe from heavily armed drug gangs and terrorist incidents."
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