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3 crucial points about Obama’s evisceration of the 1033 Program

If cops are stripped of the safety equipment and less lethal devices used for crowd control and other enforcement efforts, the scene on the street can quickly become dangerous


Armored vehicles and other so-called “militarized” looking equipment is essential to missions such as responding to violent crimes in progress like armed robberies and active-shooter incidents, barricaded subjects, hostage situations, as well as for searching for suspects like Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, which is exactly what the officers pictured above were doing when this image was taken.

AP Image

It’s unsurprising that President Obama has declared — by executive order — that local law enforcement agencies shall no longer be able to obtain certain surplus military equipment. The administration and the Pentagon telegraphed that they would eviscerate the program as far back as November when violent clashes between protesters and police in Ferguson (and elsewhere) were still ongoing.

It’s also not surprising that the types of equipment now being banned from police use are arbitrary: Camouflage clothing looks scary to people who don’t understand its usefulness in not getting shot when you’re looking for bad guys like Eric Frein or Chris Dorner, for example.

The presidential edict says that ‘weaponized aircraft’ shall be prohibited, despite the fact that no helicopter acquired under the 1033 program has ever been delivered with an M134 mini-gun for a door gunner. Just doesn’t happen. And citizens see the words “grenade launcher” and think of shrapnel-producing pineapples. Cops just don’t use the High Explosive (HE) M381 round. They use CS gas canisters and/or less-lethal projectiles like the BIP round — crowd control devices which are decidedly non-military in nature.

1. The Feds: “Give Back Our Stuff”
What is a little surprising is the fact that the “federal government is exploring ways to recall prohibited equipment already distributed.”

One must wonder how that equipment will be collected, and how police agencies will fund the acquisition of replacement gear essential to missions like crowd control, high-risk warrant service, barricaded subjects, hostage situations, searching for suspects like the Boston Marathon bombers, and responding to violent crimes in progress like armed robberies and active-shooter incidents?

2. MRAPs Apparently Not Included
One piece of equipment police agencies have acquired under the 1033 Program — which has been the target of much criticism — is the MRAP. Oddly, under the new restrictions, the MRAP remains an available item, as the order reads that “vehicles that provide ballistic protection to their occupants and utilize a tracked system instead of wheels for forward motion” will be prohibited.

MRAPs have wheels, not tracks, so under these new rules, agencies can seemingly keep them — a wrinkle that is more than a little ironic.

Regardless, let’s assume the Feds have come and taken your MRAP. If we’re truly honest with ourselves, we must concede that police agencies really should have purpose-built police-armored vehicles. When you have nothing else, the MRAP is a viable option, but it’s not the optimal solution as an armored police vehicle.

Recall that the MRAP was purpose-built for the theater of war in Iraq and Afghanistan when our soldiers were being killed and maimed because the Humvees and M35/deuce-and-a-halfs were being shredded like wet cardboard. The design of the MRAP is specific to answer the threat of an IED constructed from unexploded military ordnance. The possibility that ISIS will be laying such traps here is relatively low because there are not a lot of unexploded bombs lying about on American streets.

Further, having an MRAP may put a drain on your training budget. As Police1 Contributor Steve Rabinovich wrote back in November, “MRAPs feel, drive, and act unlike anything most drivers and teams are used to — to simply put them to use without proper training is asking for people to get hurt or killed.”

So, Mr. President, you can have your tracked vehicles (they’re loud, hot, smelly, and just chew up the pavement anyway) and your MRAPs. How will you help agencies get funding to obtain the protection they need and deserve?

Vehicles from companies like The Armored Group, Lenco, Farber Specialty Vehicles, SVI Trucks, Sirchie Vehicle Division, Lynch Diversified Vehicles, and International Armored Group are specifically designed with the police mission in mind, but they do not come cheap. What will you do, Mr. President, to help our cops protect themselves with vehicles like these?

3. Will the National Guard Take Place of Police?
Police officers are often required to enter hostile environments during the course of duty. They need — and deserve — the life-saving equipment they use to ensure that the streets are safe. If crowds are allowed to run amok because police don’t have the necessary protective equipment to safely stop a riot, we know who gets the callout: the National Guard — the actual military. Anyone who fails to see the irony in that is just not paying attention.

What critics fail to comprehend is that the gear they so vilify is almost entirely defensive in nature.

Imagine asking our officers to approach a barricaded subject with one or more hostages — who is known to be armed with a .50 caliber rifle and other weapons — in a vehicle that’s not armored. What if those hostages were kids in a school in a Beslan-like scenario with hardened terrorists poised to shoot any approaching officers? Sending cops into the scene without adequate armor would be akin to ushering those officers to their deaths.

Those officers would be forced to stay back, and let the hostage-taker have his/their way with the hostages.

Citizens would be howling at the top of their lungs for law enforcement to do something about it.

But with what? With their armored vehicles are taken away, officers cannot — and should not — go back to the bad-old-days of loading into a delivery truck and calling it protection from gunfire.

The DOJ loves its community policing initiatives. While certainly a valuable strategy to answer some specific needs in the law enforcement universe, community policing does not solve the barricaded suspect scenario. It doesn’t work when a peaceful gathering turns into a calamity causing millions of dollars of damage to an already beleaguered community.

The administration must answer the question it has raised with its so-called answer to this “militarization” debate. Do agencies now have to write funding proposals for their replacement armored vehicles under the COPS Grants? The irony of that would be almost too much to bear.

Doug Wyllie writes police training content on a wide range of topics and trends affecting the law enforcement community. Doug was a co-founder of the Policing Matters podcast and a longtime co-host of the program.