Giving police departments military grade equipment does not reduce crime or increase safety according to two independent studies. The studies come in the middle of the ongoing conversation about the validity of “defunding police” as a strategy.
In “Police demilitarization and violent crime”, Kenneth Lowande, a professor at the University of Michigan, challenged claims that the military weapons exchange program reduced crime rates, assaults on police officers, and number of complaints against police officers.
Finding issues in previously released data, Lowande focused on data available after a 2015 order from the Obama Administration aimed at demilitarizing local police agencies. Responding to public outrage after the display of militarized police in Ferguson, the Obama Administration banned some sales of military equipment to police under the controversial 1033 program. The Trump Administration reversed this policy in 2017.
In an interview with ABC News, Lowande explained that prior studies concluded that giving military grade equipment to police departments serves as a deterrent for crime. But from his analysis, the evidence does not support such conclusions. “It’s just not an accurate record,” said Lowande. “[Prior studies] were explicitly suggesting that by giving military hardware to police departments, it would deter criminals from committing crimes.”
Published in the Nature of Human Behavior, a London based journal, the studies highlight the Trump Administration’s reliance on potentially “unreliable” data in deciding to rescind Obama-era restrictions. From his evaluation of past studies, Lowande found publicly released data used in past studies were riddled with inaccuracies. Past analysis failed to control for equipment that was transferred between agencies, unused, or otherwise inoperable. Also, Lowande found no evidence that demilitarizing law enforcement agencies led to increases in crime.
Administered by the Defense Logistics Agency, the 1033 program is one of several ways law enforcement agencies procure military grade equipment. Instituted in 1997 as a part of the National Defense Authorization Act, it is estimated the 1033 program has transferred over $7 billion in military equipment across 8,000 law enforcement agencies across the country. The program was created originally for “counter-terrorism” forces but later expanded to encompass all law enforcement activity.
Coinciding with nationwide uprisings this summer, several members of the House introduced legislation to eliminate the 1033 program in June. The Movement for Black Lives also released the BREATHE Act a comprehensive legislative proposal including specific policies funding and abolishing the police. Section I of the proposed BREATHE ACT calls for the repeal of the 1033 program in its entirety.