The US Department of Defense's 1033 program sends "surplus" military equipment to US police forces ("surplus" in quotes because military contractors lobby for the US military to buy more weapons than they need in order to feed materiel to the program), which has created a situation in which cops show up in their communities literally clad in the armor of an occupying army.
This is reflected in many ways, such as the use of "civilian" to denote someone who isn't a police officer. Police are also civilians, which is why the military police are called "Military Police" — to contrast them with "civilian police." If your police force considers you a "civilian" then they, perforce, consider themselves to be military occupiers, not community peace officers.
A academic trio consisting of a political scientist, a psychologist, and a social scientist examined the use of force records from similar police forces with differing levels of military equipment and training transfers under 1033 to determine whether militarizing the police results in increased use of force by the officers.
Conclusion: "We find a positive and statistically significant relationship between 1033 transfers and fatalities from
officer-involved shootings across all models."
Moreover, they used clever methods to determine that the causal arrow runs in the direction they hypothesized, showing that it wasn't that cops in violent communities got more military stuff and were thus involved in more violence — rather, getting military goods made the cops more violent.
Political scientists possess theoretical and methodological tools to weigh into today's debates about police violence. This study answers the call for evidence-based policy analysis by Representative Ratcliffe and others as they continue to debate the merits of the 1033 program (Murtha, 2016). We acknowledge that the present analysis is relatively preliminary. Due to notoriously unavailable data on police violence against the public, we present what we consider to be a best attempt at establishing the proposed relationship between military transfers and violence.9 Further, while no research method offers full certainty of a causal effect, we attempt to increase the plausibility of the claim that 1033 transfers lead to more police violence. We do so by measuring the transfers in the previous year, as well as by leveraging three different dependent variables. While the first dependent variable – civilian killings – represents the most direct measure to test the claim, using the next two dependent variables – change in civilian killings and dog killings – helped bypass endogeneity concerns to an extent. As more social scientists take up this sort of research, we expect replication and extension of these results in different jurisdictions with different methods.
As for policy, our results suggest that implementing the EO to recall military equipment should result in less violent behavior and subsequently, fewer killings by LEAs. Taken together with work that shows militarization actually leads to more violence against police (Carriere, 2016; Wickes, 2015), the present study suggests demilitarization may secure overall community safety. The EO represents one avenue of demilitarization. However, given Kraska's (2007) typology, other aspects of militarization may be targeted. For example, perhaps training can affect cultural or operational militarization leading to less violent outcomes. Future work should explore the relationship, though the highly-decentralized nature of US police institutions presents serious challenges to systematic cross-sectional study.
Militarization and police violence: The case of the 1033 program [Casey Delehanty, Jack Mewhirter, Ryan Welch and Jason Wilks/Sage Research & Politics]
Does military equipment lead police officers to be more violent? We did the research.
[Ryan Welch and Jack Mewhirter/Washington Post]
(Image: Oregon Department of Transportation)