First in the Country: New Jersey Law a First Step to Stop Federal Militarization of Local Police

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

TRENTON, N.J. (March 18, 2015) – New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law yes­ter­day that rep­re­sents an impor­tant first step towards block­ing fed­er­al pro­grams that mil­i­ta­rize local police in the state.

Infor­mal­ly known as the 1033 Pro­gram, the Pen­ta­gon pro­vides local law enforce­ment, at lit­tle or no upfront cost, sur­plus fed­er­al prop­er­ty, includ­ing air­craft, armored vehi­cles, auto­mat­ic weapons, and night vision equip­ment orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed for use by the Unit­ed States Armed Forces with­out even obtain­ing approval of the local gov­ern­ing body.

Intro­duced by Sen. Nia Gill, Sen­ate Bill 2364 (S2364) flips this process around, ban­ning local law enforce­ment agen­cies from obtain­ing this equip­ment with­out first get­ting approval from their local gov­ern­ment. Cur­rent­ly, these mil­i­tary trans­fers hap­pen direct­ly between the feds and local police, as if they make up part of the same gov­ern­ment. This law inter­pos­es the local gov­ern­ment in the process, giv­ing the peo­ple of New Jer­sey the pow­er to end it, and at the least, forc­ing the process into the open.

S2364 passed the Sen­ate by a vote of 36–0 con­curred  by a vote of 70–0.  With Christie’s sig­na­ture, it’s the first state law of its kind direct­ly address­ing the end­less flow of mil­i­tary equip­ment to state and local police.

EFFECT

Almost 13,000 agen­cies in all 50 states and four U.S. ter­ri­to­ries par­tic­i­pate in the mil­i­tary “recy­cling” pro­gram, and the share of equip­ment and weapon­ry gift­ed each year con­tin­ues to expand. In 2011, $500 mil­lion worth of mil­i­tary equip­ment was dis­trib­uted to law enforce­ment agen­cies through­out the coun­try. That num­ber jumped to $546 mil­lion in 2012.

Since 1990, $4.2 bil­lion worth of equip­ment has been trans­ferred from the Defense Depart­ment to domes­tic police agen­cies through the 1033 pro­gram, in addi­tion to var­i­ous oth­er pro­grams sup­pos­ed­ly aimed at fight­ing the so-called War on Drugs and War on Ter­ror.

Accord­ing to the New Jer­sey Depart­ment of Law and Pub­lic Safe­ty, the Office of Emer­gency Man­age­ment assist­ed with the trans­fer of over $30 mil­lion in excess Depart­ment of Defense prop­er­ty to New Jer­sey law enforce­ment agen­cies since the begin­ning of fed­er­al fis­cal year 2014.

S2364 wouldn’t put an end to the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of New Jer­sey law enforce­ment, but is does it cre­ate a mech­a­nism for local com­mu­ni­ties to stop the free-flow­ing tide of equip­ment. Cit­i­zens now have the pow­er and forum to pres­sure their elect­ed offi­cials at a city or coun­ty lev­el to vote against such acqui­si­tions or face the con­se­quences come the next election.The new law also cre­ates an envi­ron­ment of trans­paren­cy that didn’t exist before.

CONDITIONAL VETO OF SECOND BILL

Gov. Christie issued a con­di­tion­al veto of a sec­ond bill that would cre­ate anoth­er lev­el of account­abil­i­ty for the 1033 pro­gram.

Also intro­duced by Sen. Gill, Sen­ate Bill 2365 (S2365), would have required the state attor­ney gen­er­al to over­see and per­son­al­ly approve each fed­er­al trans­fer, and require a year­ly report of “the num­ber of equip­ment trans­fers that were made, specif­i­cal­ly iden­ti­fy­ing each law enforce­ment agency which received the equip­ment, the exact equip­ment received, and the pur­pos­es for which the equip­ment will be used.”

Argu­ing that it would place too big a bur­den and work­load on the attor­ney gen­er­al, Christie rec­om­mend­ed amend­ments that would only require the AG to “act as the state coor­di­na­tor” for the over­sight pro­gram. In that case, it appears the major­i­ty of the work­load would fall on the state police. The leg­is­la­ture will have to approve the amend­ments by a major­i­ty vote in both cham­bers, or over­ride the veto by a 2/3 vote in both cham­bers.

NOT ALONE

Stronger bills are up for con­sid­er­a­tion in Mon­tana, Mass­a­chu­setts, Min­neso­ta and else­where. “New Jer­sey has tak­en the impor­tant first step towards end­ing this fed­er­al mil­i­ta­riza­tion and con­trol of local police,” said Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amend­ment Cen­ter. “As James Madi­son taught us, refus­ing to coop­er­ate with fed­er­al pro­grams in mul­ti­ple states is the most effec­tive way to bring them down.”

ACTION STEPS

Take action to push back against fed­er­al mil­i­ta­riza­tion of your police at this link.