Watchmen or Warfighters? A Conservative Proposal for Limiting Military-Grade Weapons Sent to States

Under the Department of Defense’s (DOD) 1033 Program, surplus or out-of-date materiel is transferred to various law enforcement departments nationwide to supplant the need for state and local spending. Unfortunately, as seen with most government functions, there has been an element of “mission creep” facilitated by the procurement program nationally, and Texas is no exception. A school district with 742 enrolled students received marksman-grade armaments and related laser range-finding equipment. A prominent university received a vehicle designed to withstand an improvised explosive device detonation. A county’s environmental compliance division received four 5.56 mm rifles for every sworn officer. Of course, this is in addition to the well provisioned municipality and county jurisdictions that also cover the area.

The program is also seen as contributing to the larger militarization of civilian law enforcement—a growing concern across the political spectrum. In routinely outfitting in and deploying military-grade weaponry, law enforcement grows to see its role akin to that of a warfighter rather than a peace officer. This is especially concerning when departments stockpile weaponry to fulfill a need that largely has yet to manifest itself.

Thus far, the program has seen the disbursement of $1.86 billion worth of material nationally, and $124.91 million to Texas. Municipal police agencies are the largest beneficiary, followed by county sheriffs. Several K-12 and higher education police departments have also taken advantage of the program.

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